Brianna Herlihy Completes Six Year Career


Courtesy of Olivia Pasquale/Villanovan Photography

Brianna Herlihy has spent the last six years on the Main Line.

Meghann Morhardt, Co-Sports Editor

After six years at Villanova, on March 21, with 1:02 on the game clock, trailing Michigan by 16 in the Round of 32, an emotional Brianna Herlihy exited the floor for her final time in a Wildcat uniform. It took her about two minutes to make her way down the bench, sharing long embraces with each teammate, coach and manager. A member of the 2018 team who made the NCAA Tournament, Herlihy finished her career the same way it started.

“It definitely felt kind of full circle,” Herlihy said. “It was funny because everytime we talked about it, I was the only one who had been there before. It was just an incredible experience, ending your career at the NCAA Tournament is just one of the greatest accomplishments you can have in a season.” 

This accomplishment was atop the team’s list of goals from the very beginning of the season. But after being picked to finish fifth in the Big East, many people counted them out of Big East contention, let alone the NCAA Tournament. Despite the doubt, the Wildcats finished second in the conference during the regular season and made it to the Big East Tournament finals, building their resume enough to secure an at-large bid on Selection Sunday. 

“I felt pretty confident in our team that we were going to get in,” Herlihy said on Selection Sunday. “People are going to say what they’re going to say. Everyone’s going to have a different opinion, you can’t really focus on that. We kind of just, within our team, decided we’re going to make the NCAA Tournament this year. So, we played every game for that goal.” 

Receiving the bid on Selection Sunday was special for Herlihy, but it was even more special for her teammates and head coach Denise Dillon. 

“When you see players who just put in everything they have to their teammates and their program that they’re a part of, you want to see them rewarded,” Dillon said following the selection show. “Brianna is a great example of that. Her teammates wanted this so badly for her. You could even see this week, them being worked up, like ‘What’s gonna happen? We want Brianna to experience the NCAA Tournament’ and here it is. They made it real.”

This was a sentiment that Dillon shared at multiple points throughout the season, emphasizing that they just wanted to “make this Brianna’s best year yet.” When reflecting on the season and asked if the team was able to accomplish this, there was no hesitation from Herlihy.

“Definitely,” she responded. “It was an amazing year. I mean, we accomplished so many things that I had been hoping to do in my time here. And I’m so happy that I got to do it with this team and with this group of girls because it was just so much fun and winning with them was incredible.” 

Throughout the season, Herlihy’s belief and confidence in the team was evident, and as one of just four upperclassmen, Dillon called her the “mom of the team,” a role that she embraced with open arms. 

“Obviously, I know a lot about the school and how things work, so I think people definitely come to me to ask those questions,” Herlihy said. “Just kind of helping everyone through and teaching them from things that I learned from being here. So, I definitely embraced that and enjoyed that role this year.”

While that is her role now, when Herlihy arrived to the Main Line as a freshman, she never anticipated being in the position that she is today with two NCAA appearances, two WNIT Tournaments, a Big East Tournament Finals appearance and many accolades including Second Team all-Big East (2021), Big 5 Most Improved Player (2021) and all-Big 5 First Team (2021, 2022). 

The improvement in her game since she first played is clear, as she finished her rookie season with just 20 points and 33 rebounds in 19 games played, as opposed to 331 points and 254 rebounds in 31 games this season. 

When looking at stats to determine success, many people will focus on scoring, but Herlihy’s impact is most visible in the other categories of the statline. This season, she led the team in rebounds (254), assists (97), steals (42) and blocks (27). Dillon consistently applauded Herlihy’s energy and enthusiasm, calling it “contagious” on multiple occasions. This grit was shown best in the team’s Big East Tournament run, where Herlihy had back to back double-doubles in the quarter and semifinals. Following the loss to UConn in the tournament Finals, Dillon emphasized what Herlihy has meant to the team. 

“That example is so important for our program,” Dillon said of Herlihy’s performance. “We have five freshmen, and I say regularly, I want them to recognize that you have this sixth year player, had an ACL injury, missed a year and gives everything to this program. There is nothing more rewarding as a coach than to see that.”

After spending six years at Villanova, it has become a second home for Herlihy, and now, just over a month since her career came to an end, the reality of the situation has finally hit her. 

“I think it’s definitely sunk in,” Herlihy said. “I definitely was in denial for a couple weeks, but I have still been practicing and working out with the team, so it’s been nice to still be able to  hang out with them and see them.” 

Having the opportunity to workout with the team is beneficial for Herlihy’s morale, but it will also help get her ready for her next journey as she begins to explore the option of playing overseas. The lessons that she has learned here through all of her accomplishments and obstacles will take her far in her basketball career and beyond

“I’ve become more confident in myself,” Herlihy said of her time here. “And being able to use that in communicating with people and how I carry myself. When I came in here, I wasn’t good at speaking in public or doing interviews or anything, and I think throughout my time here and the people that I’ve met have given me the confidence to put myself out there a little more and use my abilities to better myself.”