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From Walk-On to Captain

Jackie Grisdale’s Unconventional Path to Stardom
(Photo Credit: Nick Boyd/QBSN)
Jackie Grisdale during her sophomore season at Quinnipiac

Quinnipiac’s Jackie Grisdale doesn’t remember life without basketball.

“It was my first true love,” the junior guard said, her eyes lighting up. “I’ve been in the gym since I was born.”

Growing up in Poland, Ohio, she was surrounded by the sport. Her mother Kim was a star player at Division III Kenyon College in the ‘90s and graduated from Kenyon as the school’s all-time leading scorer, with over 1,700 points as an Owl. Her father Ken coached the boy’s basketball team at Poland Seminary high school.

Once Grisdale started playing in high school herself, she excelled. She broke multiple school records and finished as the school’s all-time leading scorer across both boys and girls basketball with 1,503 points: just like mom.

Grisdale playing in high school at Poland Seminary (Photo Credit: YSNLive.com)

Which made not getting recruited extremely frustrating.

“Going into my senior year I had no idea where I was going to end up,” Grisdale said. “There were girls all around me committing and finding their home and it was a little stressful. But I had faith I was going to find my fit.”

Grisdale didn’t just excel at basketball. She played five other varsity sports – softball, track, cross country, golf, and soccer Being a multi-sport athlete was both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, having multiple sports to focus on prevented Grisdale from getting burnt out from basketball and improved both her conditioning and skills on the court. On the other hand…

“In the spring, [softball and track] prevented me from playing AAU and that’s where most collegiate basketball players get their exposure,” Grisdale said.

Instead, she had to send highlight videos and practice tapes out to coaches by herself. “I got a lot of rejection,” Grisdale said.

Eventually, she found a way in.

Her mom’s former coach at Kenyon, Suzanne Helfant, knew Quinnipiac’s head coach Tricia Fabbri. Through Helfant, Grisdale connected with Fabbri, and the two hit it off. Fabbri offered Grisdale a spot on the roster as a non-scholarship player and the chance to prove herself.

“From the moment I talked to Coach Fabbri, I knew this was where I wanted to be,” Grisdale said. “I’m grateful for the way that everything happened. But it definitely was a process.”

Right from her first practice as a Bobcat, Grisdale said that she felt at home. “[That first practice] was a lot of nerves. But I felt welcomed in from the start,” she said. “Basketball is basketball… I felt a comfort in knowing that I was just doing something I could be successful at and be challenged by the people around me.”

During that first season, Grisdale began to find her groove. She broke out with 14 points against Saint Peter’s in mid-January and then erupted against Niagara later in the month, scoring 26 and hitting a program-high six threes. Another double-digit scoring performance against Monmouth in February cemented her status as a key player in the team’s rotation. Grisdale became the first walk-on player in program history to receive all-conference honors at the end of that season. when she made the MAAC All-Rookie team.

After the regular season, Fabbri and the team surprised her with a full athletic scholarship. “I have never had a young lady who has really played such a role to success on the court,” Fabbri said, pushing forward a table with a congratulatory cake in a video of the moment. “We are thrilled as a staff, and obviously your teammates, to have you officially receive a full scholarship.”

Grisdale was mobbed by her teammates as soon as the words left Fabbri’s lips. She calls it one of the best days of her life.

“I’ll never forget it. Every moment is ingrained in my memory,” Grisdale said. “I was so grateful to Coach for taking a chance on me.”

Junior forward Grace LaBarge also called it a moment she’ll never forget. “Oh my gosh. That video was like the best thing ever,” she said. “I think Jackie was a little bit shocked. But I wasn’t shocked at all. From the work that she has put in during her time here, she completely deserved it.”

LaBarge and then-senior guard Mackenzie DeWees were two of the first people to embrace Grisdale. Grisdale considers DeWees a mentor for her and one of the most impactful teammates she’s ever had.

Mackenzie DeWees (left) and Jackie Grisdale (right) (Photo Credit: Rob  Rasmussen/Quinnipiac Athletics)

“Mack made a lasting impact on me,” Grisdale said. “I’m hoping to carry some of what she taught me through the next few years.”

So far, she has. Before the season, Grisdale was named the first official team captain in the program’s Division I history. But her teammates have viewed her as a leader for much longer.

Grisdale is often the first to find teammates after they make a big play with a high five and impassioned ‘Let’s go!’. On the bench, she is always offering words of encouragement. When her teammates get worked up on the court, she is there to bring them back down and keep them calm.

“She’s one of my best friends on the team,” LaBarge added.

Senior guard Jillian Casey also has a deep friendship with Grisdale. The two are almost inseparable on and off the court.

“We clicked right away and we’ve got very similar personalities… she’s the best teammate I ever had,” Casey said. “She’s my person.”

The two are so tight, that they even vacationed together over the summer in Costa Rica. “Ziplining was our favorite… It was right over a jungle and there was a volcano in the backdrop,” Casey recounted. “And then we tried some live termites.”

Live termites?

“The guy we were with stuck some sticks into a termite nest, pulled them out… and we just ate the termites right off our hands.” Casey said “It wasn’t bad! You couldn’t really taste it, they were so small.”

Get yourself a friend you are willing to eat live termites with one moment and chase conference titles with the next. “She’s become so much more confident and just more vocal,” Casey said. “It’s cool to see.”

Heading into her junior season, Grisdale’s main focus is winning. “We’ve got a tough non-conference schedule and then obviously the [MAAC] is going to be pretty great this year too,” Grisdale said. “We’re just looking to make an impact. And I’m going to try to do whatever I can to help our team win.”

The Bobcats will face some uncertainties this year with seven new players on the roster (six first years). But one thing is certain; Jackie Grisdale will be leading the way.

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About the Contributor
Nick Boyd
Nick Boyd, Associate Producer: Sports Paws
Nick is a 3+1 journalism major from Poughkeepsie, NY in his sophomore year. Last year with Q30, Nick was a beat reporter covering the Women's Basketball Team and was involved with multiple shows. He's also the photography manager for QBSN.

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