IUP BASKETBALL: McConnell satisfied with first season at IUP
First-year IUP women’s basketball coach Tom McConnell won 11 of his first 12 games this season and ultimately steered the Crimson Hawks to their ninth straight Pennsylvania State Athletic tournament appearance.
And although the Hawks underachieved by recent standards and fell short of their third straight NCAA tournament berth and their third consecutive 20-win season, McConnell learned the intricacies of his program and the challenges posed playing in the PSAC.
Next season, McConnell, who’s already signed four members of his first recruiting class, plans to apply the lessons he learned to a promising team that will graduate just three seniors, including only one starter.
“We know each other better now and we know the system better,” said McConnell, who came to IUP after serving as an assistant coach at Old Dominion the previous two seasons. “The way we ran practice and everything we did last year was brand new. So now when we talk about drills, schemes (and) terminology, they’ll know exactly what we mean and they’ll be able to teach the four new players we have coming into the program how things are done.”
McConnell offered brief rundowns on the recruits he landed: Hempfield’s Monica Burns, Blackhawk’s Halle Denman, Hollidaysburg’s Courteney Storm and West Perry’s Megan Smith.
“Monica’s a high-scoring guard who has the ability to shoot the ball deep and get to the rim,” said McConnell. “Halle is a versatile guard who can disrupt a team defensively with pressure on the ball, but she scored 1,000 points and obviously has the ability to score the basketball, too. Courteney is a forward that just plays so hard and can run forever. She’s a high-energy player, but she also has the ability to play guard or forward. Megan is very skilled in that she can post you up and she can step out and shoot from good range. She has the unique ability to take the ball off the rim and play like a guard and move it the length of the floor and make plays.”
McConnell can’t say at this point what roles Burns, Denman, Storm and Smith might inherit, but the 24-year coaching veteran said he’s confident his recruits will aide in the team’s evolution.
“We’re creating a vision for the future and where we want to go and they’re definitely a part of that vision,” said McConnell. “We’re excited to have all four of them. We’re excited and we look forward to blending their talents and skills with the talents and skills of the current players on our team. Our plan is that the new players make an immediate impact and make us better and more competitive, and that’s very exciting.”
In June, McConnell replaced former IUP coach Jeff Dow, who posted consecutive 23-win seasons in his last two years and won 73 percent of his games in five seasons. McConnell admitted that he didn’t know what to expect heading into the 2013-14 season with a team essentially made up of Dow’s recruits.
“I’ve always had a great respect for the PSAC, but now having gone through it for a year, I have an even greater respect for its coaches and its talent,” McConnell said. “As far as expectations, though, I was really just an open book for every game. Every game was different and exciting for me. The only goals we set were that we wanted to lead the country in high fives and floor burns and just play harder than everybody else.”
IUP will return its top four scorers and rebounders from this season, including guard Lindsay Stamp, who finished tied for third in scoring in the PSAC with 17.8 points per game and grabbed a team-best 6.8 rebounds per game.
Along with Stamp, integral members of this year’s team will return, including guards and Indiana County natives Leslie Stapleton, Amy Fairman and Marita Mathe and forwards Ashley Stoner and Zhané Brooks.
Stapleton averaged 11.4 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game last year. Fairman amassed 8.3 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists, Mathe posted 8.2 points, 3.7 rebounds and a team-high 2.9 assists, Stoner notched 11.1 points and 6.0 rebounds, and Brooks tallied 4.9 points and 5.6 rebounds,
IUP, which started just one senior regularly, posted an overall record of 18-10, including 8-8 in the PSAC West. The Hawks rebounded from a five-game losing streak in January and placed fourth in the PSAC West Division to qualify for the conference tournament, where they lost in the quarterfinal round to top-seeded Edinboro, 79-60. It was IUP’s earliest playoff exit since losing in the same round in 2010-11.