“So long as I’m aggressive and I’m smiling, I’m pretty good,” said Kilkenny, a 5-foot-8 senior guard from Castlebar, Co. Mayo.
Lately, Kilkenny has given Jaspers fans plenty to smile about. She was named Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Player of the Week in mid-February, then was selected to the All-MAAC second team. Next was Tournament Most Valuable Player as Manhattan took the MAAC title and earned a slot in the NCAA Div. I women’s playoffs. Seeded 14th in the Midwest region, the 20-9 Lady Jaspers face third seed Mississippi State on Saturday in Albuquerque, N.M.
Kilkenny, the youngest of six children, was born and raised in Castlebar, where her father does electrical work. Trying to remain competitive with three brothers and two sisters honed the edge that she brought to the Bronx.
She remembers trying to put the ball through a hoop when just 6 years old.
“[My now sister-in-law] was dating my brother and she set up a basketball club and took me down with her, I guess babysitting me at the time,” Kilkenny said. “But I picked it up from there and continued with it.
“I was always the younger one playing with the older. We had a hoop in the backyard, and rain, hail or snow, I was always out there. My brother, who was 6-6, always used to have me out in the back and he’d never let up on me. So it would be me as a little 12-year-old up against him, so he kind of drove the competitive spirit into me.”
Kilkenny eventually came of age to take part in organized competition and her ability was apparent.
“When I was 12 years old, there was a league around Connacht and it was an Under-15 league,” Kilkenny said. “We played in the Sligo competition and there was a guy up there that said I should try out for the Under-15 national team. I tried out and I don’t know if I was good enough or not, but they said that within the next six months Ger Tarrant was going to take over an Under-14 group and to hold on for that one.”
Hold on she did and Kilkenny spent the next several years progressing up the ladder from under-14 to under-16 to under-18. Tarrant moved along with the group, providing stability to the fledgling hoopsters.
Whereas many of the girls had but a short jog to practice, Kilkenny became familiar with the Irish countryside.
“I traveled once a weekend for every month,” Kilkenny said. “It was either a four- or five-hour drive or bus ride for me. I’d jump right off a bus and onto the basketball court. Practices were either in Kerry or Dublin. They were never near me. I was the only girl from Connacht on the team.”
While excelling for Ireland in international competition, the notion of traveling to the U.S. for college ball was hatched. Jim Larkin, Kilkenny’s godfather, was responsible for paving the way for many Irish student athletes, and hoped to do likewise for his goddaughter.
“He started the ball rolling, but he passed away before I had the chance to come out here,” Kilkenny said. “So after that I had kind of given up the hope. I was kind of a homegirl and I didn’t really want to make the big step. But the summer before I came here, one of the [Manhattan] assistants here at the time came to Sweden to see my play in an international tournament, the European championships, and he recruited me there. I thought that was a big thing for him to fly to Sweden, so that got the ball rolling.”
Kilkenny had also received feelers from Iona, Drexel, Hartford and Bridgeport, but took a chance on Manhattan sight unseen. Although she had visited her brothers, who had settled in Hartford, on a previous occasion, she hadn’t strayed across the New York border.
“I had no idea of what to expect,” Kilkenny said. “The first year was torture. The first week I was ready to go home every day. But I’ve never been a quitter and I just stuck to it.
“I came back my second year, I was still struggling, but I bit my lip and went on, but I’m happy that I made the decision to do so. I guess when I came back after the second year, I realized that I had made friends and, like walking around campus, I was seeing familiar faces and stuff. Obviously, the team bonding helped.”
Kilkenny was given a chance to contribute as a freshman, but there was streakiness to her play that sometimes earned her hard time on the bench.
“My first two years here, I don’t think my coach [Sal Buscaglia] had too much confidence in my playing ability,” Kilkenny said. “I’m a player where if I make a mistake or two, I need to be kept in there to work through it, or taken out for a minute or two and put back in. But in the past two years, my numbers have been pretty solid and I think he has gained confidence in me.”
A case in point: two games in early February saw Kilkenny shoot abysmally, including one 0-for-10 performance from the floor. But she came back in a big way, earning MAAC Player of the Week honors the next week.
“In those two games I tried too hard and that’s a downfall for me, where I don’t let the game come to me, I try to go after it,” Kilkenny said.
The team got off to a shaky start this season and was 3-8 at one point. But they turned things around in early January, running off a 13-game winning streak that wasn’t snapped until late February.
“I guess we weren’t reading each other very well,” Kilkenny said. “We were looking for one player [to be the go-to player], as opposed to the five of us. But I think we changed things up and ran plays where if that one person were open so be it, but if not, if something else opened up, you take [the shot].”
Not only have the Lady Jaspers had to contend with the teams on their schedule, they’ve had to compete with Manhattan’s men’s team for publicity, a battle they’ve been less successful at winning.
“We don’t get the fans unless it’s a doubleheader, which really, really ticks me off because we’re working just as hard, we’re doing just as much as them,” Kilkenny said. “Yesterday, Channel 12, the local Bronx station, was in our gym and both of us were practicing at the same time and all they were concentrating on was the guys.”
The focus may not swing over to the women anytime soon as the men’s team also plunges into March madness against Syracuse this weekend.
But March will be over before long, as will Kilkenny’s collegiate career. She’s on track to graduate with a degree in physical education, but isn’t certain where she will next apply her talents.
“Maybe I’ll get into coaching somewhere, maybe I’ll play professionally in
Europe,” Kilkenny said. “If I’m going to get into coaching, I’m going to stay [in the U.S.] and try it.”
Eventually, Kilkenny would like to coach at the Div. I level, but realizes that such an opportunity will materialize only after she has paid the requisite dues.
But that’s later. For now, Siobhan Kilkenny hopes to continue smiling throughout the month of March.