In the late 80's into 1992, the UConn Women were making their way up the ladder to becoming a contender not just for Big East Championships, but as a National contender. Making the Final Four in 1991. When the Junior Class of that team graduated, the Huskies already had a pair of freshman to keep the move up in Rebecca Lobo and Pam Weber. The next step was replacing the likes of Debbie Baer and Meg Pattyson. They brought in Jamelle Elliott and Baer's replacement, Jennifer Rizzotti. An in state product that would become the daring of Connecticut kids everywhere.
As a youth, Jen and her family lived in Japan as her father worked for IBM. Playing soccer, volleyball and basketball. Even with the boys on the pitch...By the time she reached High School, Jen and her Family were back in Connecticut and settled down in New Fairfield. Where as a "Rebel," she set the world on fire. At 5'-5" she would be only the sixth state player to score 2,000 points (2,036) not to mention leading her teams to back to back CIAC Class "M" Championships in 1991 and 1992. Academically, she was just as talented, National Honor Society and carried 18 college credits into college. Keeping a watchful eye on her, UConn Head Coach Geno Auriemma. And Rizzotti was ready to take that next step, choosing the Huskies over Providence.
When she arrived in Storrs, she made an impact, averaging 12ppg, but turnovers were a problem as the Huskies went 18-11 and lost back to back games to close out the season. As of today, it's been 9,924 days between back to back losses. Rizzotti was named Freshman of the Year in the Big East. Add Kara Wolters and Carla Berube to the 1993-94' team and the Huskies became a legitimate National Player. A 30-3 season where UConn won both Big East Crowns and got their first Number One Seed in the NCAA Tournament. But the Final Four would have to wait as North Carolina ended the Huskies run in the Elite 8. Rizzotti's turnover numbers went down substantially. Averaging 10ppg while doling out 150 assists.
The Junior Year of 1994-95' would be a special year. First, a fellow Nutmegger, Nykesha Sales joined the program as a key cog off the bench. All the Huskies needed was a step up in scheduling. N.C. State and California on January 16th in Storrs, Tennessee. The Huskies took care of business...beating everyone in their path, including the Lady Vols at Gampel Pavilion 77-66 to take over the Number One Ranking and never relinquishing the top spot. While Rebecca Lobo was the focal point, she of course didn't do it all herself, which is the UConn Way. Rizzotti was the quarterback of this team. 13ppg, and 161 assists that helped UConn roll thru the Big East and the NCAA's until surviving a strong battle from Virginia in the Elite 8. And after a win over Stanford, Tennessee was the last road block in the Title Game. Rizzotti along with Lobo and Sales found themselves in foul trouble in the first half. But they righted the ship as Lobo sparked the comeback. But Rizzotti's highlight steal and cross over to elide Michelle Marciniack with 1:51 left put the Huskies up to stay and win their first National Championship. Rizzotti joining Lobo as WBCA All American in a 35-0 season.
The 95-96' Team, she was the leader with Jamelle Elliott. Again, the Huskies won both Big East Titles and went to a second straight Final Four. The Highlights, Rizzotti's big game in the Huskies first visit to Knoxville, a 59-53 win. But sadly the Lady Vols got the better of UConn in an Overtime epic at the Final Four in Charlotte. Jen's final game, 17p and 9 assists. 11ppg and 222 assists in the season, earning her Big East Player of the Year, WBCA and AP All American and the Wade Trophy Winner as National Player of the Year. 1,540pt (25th) 637a (3rd) 349 steals (3rd) that included 10 in one game at Providence. Rizzotti left her mark in Storrs.
As we know, she was far from done. A solid stint in the pros with New England of the ABL, then Houston of the WNBA, where she played on two championship teams. But as it turns out, her calling was in coaching. Pat Meiser, then the AD at the University of Hartford, hired her to build a Women's Basketball Program. And Jen didn't disappoint. A 17 year run that produced Five America East Regular Season Titles and 6 Tournament Titles that meant NCAA Appearances. And four other postseason appearances. Twice, the Hawks won opening round NCAA Games. Her best stretch 2004-13 where the Hawks played in the postseason every year. After 17 years in West Hartford, things were getting stale and a new challenge needed, in Washington DC and taking over at George Washington of the A-10. Where the program was established. She took the Colonials to a pair of postseason appearances before a tough 18-19' campaign. And while G.W. finished strong this past season, they lost in the first round of the A-10 tourney...
While Rizzotti isn't busy enough, she's heavily involved in USA Basketball. As Chairperson of the Women's Junior National Team committee. Coached the U-18 Team in 2010 and U-19 Team in 2011. And joined the staff of the Senior National Team as scout and bench coach for Geno Auriemma on the 2014' World Cup Team and the 2016 Olympics.
Jen married her college sweetheart, Bill Sullivan, who's been on her staffs at Hartford and G.W. while being a mom of two boys, 15 & 11. Since leaving Storrs, only two players have worn 21. Jennifer Rizzotti and those signature knee pads left a mark on the program and to kids across the state. Forever a UConn Legend...