An occasional series about University of Rhode Island Women’s Basketball Team and Coach Cathy Inglese as she tries to turnaround a losing program.
By Laura Pappano
The image unfolded as an accident. At a recent practice, a player scrambling to save a ball heading out of bounds couldn’t stop herself and went crashing into the line of chairs at court’s edge, sending them falling over one by one – as University of Rhode Island Head Coach Cathy Inglese observed, “like dominoes.”
Only, the last few didn’t fall. So Inglese walked over and sent them crashing down.
It was meant as a light moment – an intense Inglese showing off her fun side – but it might as well have been part of the Rams playbook: We’re starting fresh. New season, new challenges.
It has not been a cakewalk for this URI women’s basketball team. They barely missed post season play last year, they have a mostly new staff, and the season –ugh– is starting with a few injuries. Still, this group has grit and they opened their season yesterday against Colgate with a 59-47 win.
Year Two of Inglese’s quest to build – not just a team, but a program, has officially begun. Now that the initial hoopla buy-into-the-vision is over, What does that look like?
Like the tumbling chairs, rebuilding is a chain-reaction. It is a step-by-step process in which one bit of success pushes forward another – something as small as a bench player shedding pounds and deciding to make a run at more playing time.
Inglese and assistant coach Marnie Dacko, former head coach at the University of Massachusetts and Inglese’s one-time teammate at Southern Connecticut State University (and both inductees into the Connecticut Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame), talked about the start of the 2010-2011 season.
FGN: How does this year feel different than last year?
CI: We’re building on the on the culture we created. The players have bought into our coaching style and what it takes to be successful. This summer, the players came for summer school and they stayed for both sessions. So they came into this season in great shape. Last year they weren’t in shape. There were some drills at the beginning of last season that I wanted to do, that we couldn’t do. Now they can make it through practice. It shows their commitment to a work ethic.
FGN: Last year, you just missed the A-10 tournament. What did you say to players at the end of the season?
CI: You always want to make your conference tournament. We did well, but it was a three-way-four-way tie and it came down to tie-breakers. I told them I was pleased with their efforts. They never gave up. We always felt we could win the next game – and they never felt they defeated and that is really important.
FGN: You mention that attitude, that mindset a lot. Why does it matter?
CI: There is this stuff on the surface that everybody sees. But there is a lot that happens down here (Inglese, sitting in a chair in her office, gestures with her hands). We are doing a lot of stuff down here that people don’t see. And that is building a culture that we talked about. Even though we lost games at the end of the season, we always felt we could win the next. We put up some lay up or foul shots [that didn’t go in] – and those are the little things you have to get down and then those 5, 6, 7 losses become wins. We never got blown out. It’s one layer at a time.
FGN: You have mentioned part of building a team is recruiting better, faster, stronger, players. Recently, you recruited Lincoln School 6’ 4” senior center Corinne Coia to next year’s team, a top RI player. How hard is it to land talent these days?
MD: Cathy was successful at Vermont, she was successful at BC. [High school prospects] nowadays are much more visible than they have ever been. So you won’t find kids in the woods or a small town. It’s a challenge. But Rhode Island is a well-kept secret in New England.
FGN: You are a veteran coach and you happened to play against URI last season. What do you see here ?
MD: Last year, I gave Cathy her first A-10 win [laughs]. Cathy inherited a program at rock bottom. First, I saw that the president [David Dooley] and his wife [Lynn Baker-Dooley] are huge advocates for the success of women’s basketball. They come to the games. It starts from the top and works down to the team.
The kids on this team are working hard at practice everyday, they are pushing each other verbally and physically on the floor and working toward a common goal. And they are not threatened by bringing in talent. They don’t say [when we bring in potential recruits to practice], “Oh coach is bringing in someone who’s 6’5” will I still get a chance to play?” They want a better program.