Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Wooden Era Begins at West Chester

by ROB KNOX (@knoxrob1)

Sometimes, first-year West Chester University women’s basketball head coach Kiera Wooden has to pinch herself to make sure she's not dreaming.

She's not.

Wooden is exactly where she always believed she would be one day: On the sacred West Chester bench and leading the program.

“I grew up here,” Wooden said. “I was always taught that if there’s something that you love to do, why not get paid for it.

"I am in the best situation possible. I am a little biased because I graduated from here. I couldn’t imagine myself coaching anywhere else. This team and University mean so much to me. Coaching here is my dream job.”

Though there will be a different face leading the Golden Rams this season, former coach Diedre Kane’s impact and influence will still be felt as Wooden learned from the best during her 10 years as Kane’s right and left hand on and off the court. Even with the changes at the top, things will basically stay the same.

Aside from building plenty of championship teams, molding young women into productive members of society and running a model Division II program for 27 years, Kane always instilled in her players that family comes first.

So when she learned she was about to be a grandmother again, Kane practiced what she preached.

While her retirement announcement stunned many during an otherwise quiet summer on the Division II front in the Philadelphia region, Wooden or the rest of the Golden Rams weren’t surprised when Kane gracefully stepped down as head coach.

Wooden officially inherited the title of head coach, something she had been building towards since she entered West Chester as a player in 1999 and then an assistant coach in 2004.

“Coach Kane always gave me co-ownership of the team,” Wooden said. “She never made me feel like an assistant coach and I got to experience plenty while having my hands in every aspect of our program.

"That has made the transition easy. We knew coach Kane stepping down was coming; we didn’t know exactly when. Then once she knew she was going to be a grandmom, we got the inclination that she would step down sooner rather than later.”

West Chester made the perfect choice in naming Wooden as head coach.

She has spent the last 15 years in Hollinger Fieldhouse as a player, assistant coach, proud alumnae and now head coach. She’s in charge of a talented and driven West Chester squad returning some of the top players in Division II from a team that finished 19-9 overall.

The Golden Rams, who had a nice run in the prestigious Philadelphia/Suburban NCAA Women's Summer League, were picked first in the preseason Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) coaches’ poll.

“I couldn’t have handpicked a better situation,” Wooden said. “(Kane’s) timing is impeccable. She never makes any decisions lightly. One of the biggest things I learned from her is the relationships you build are important and the feeling of a family. I am a Golden Ram for life and that means something to me as well as family first.”

Technically, Wooden’s first official game as West Chester head coach was an exhibition contest against two-time reigning Division I national champion Connecticut and West Chester alum Geno Auriemma on Nov. 2.

However, the games will begin to count for real Friday when the Golden Rams host Concordia at 7:30 p.m. and University of the Sciences Saturday at 2:00 p.m.in the Carol Eckman Classic at Hollinger Fieldhouse. All of the Division II schools in the guru’s coverage start the season this weekend.

Wooden has been designing plays, offering significant input on late-game strategies, developing players, recruiting, organizing travel arrangements, handing out meal money to eager student-athletes long before she will be introduced as a head coach.

“We were pleasantly surprised to be picked to finish first,” Wooden said. “However, in the beginning of the season, the poll doesn’t matter. Our goal is to be in first at the end of the year.

"I thought Bloomsburg would be picked to finish first especially since they have most of their starters returning. I figured we would be picked to finish among the top three teams. However, I told my team that pressure is a privilege and we’re looking forward to the challenge of the season.”

Following a legend of Kane’s stature would be intimidating to many people except Wooden.

She has been instrumental in the success of the Golden Rams' program over the past decade, helping West Chester to reach the postseason nine times, including the NCAA Division II Tournament in 2013.

She was hired as the first full-time assistant coach in the history of the women's basketball program prior to the 2004-05 campaign.

The Golden Rams have also had three 20-win seasons and nine winning records since Wooden has been on board.

“I could not be happier with the selection of Kiera Manlove Wooden as my successor,” Kane said in August on the West Chester website. “More importantly, the players could not be happier. Kiera has been ready to be a head coach for some time now. It was her loyalty to me, and West Chester University, that compelled her to stay put.

“The legacy I have always wanted to leave is that of our Golden Rams Family. Kiera shares that desire. It is as if my own daughter will be taking over my life's work. Who could ask for more?”

Wooden has the team that could make Kane proud and lead West Chester to the NCAA Division II tournament.

She has plenty of weapons of mass destruction at her disposal. Leading a veteran Golden Ram squad are juniors Dallas Ely and Brittany Sicinski, who were named to the preseason all-conference squad.

Ely is the PSAC’s returning leading scorer at 19.4 points per game. Her efforts from last season landed her a Division II honorable mention All-America selection by the WBCA, while also being named to the first team 2013-14 Daktronics, Inc., NCAA Division II Women's Basketball All-Atlantic Region squad.

Sicinski, a Downingtown West graduate, is a returning All-PSAC East selection, who averaged 14.8 points per game.

“It’s tough to lose a coach that recruited you, but at the same time she had warned us that she would be retiring,” Ely said.

“We had an idea that coach Wooden would eventually be our new coach so it wasn’t too much of a surprise. We know coach Kane is not around. However, the things we do are the still the same tradition, but by a new coach. Even though it’s a change; it feels the same. It hasn’t been an overwhelming change.

“The offenses are tweaked some. Coach Wooden has been more defensive minded then coach Kane was. We focus more on defense and boxing out and that aspect of the game.”

Ely and the rest of her teammates had an opportunity of a lifetime early this month when playing two-time reigning national champion Connecticut at the XL Center. Even though it was a long 40-minute afternoon, the Golden Rams will remember the trip to the Nutmeg State.

“It was an experience of a lifetime, but it was kind of frustrating,” Ely said on playing UConn.

“As far as improving our team it’s hard to do because you can’t tell what your strengths and weaknesses are because they were so dominant. Coach told us at halftime to have fun. We didn’t play them man-to-man because all their players were at least a foot taller than we were. It’s like who do you choose? I started out guarding Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis.”

Overall, for Wooden and the Golden Rams the transition has been smooth. She won’t have to worry about game planning for Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson, Mosqueda-Lewis and the rest of the Huskies this season.

Wooden knows the PSAC will offer its share of challenges, but she’s prepared because she was trained under the best teacher.

While her title has changed, the lofty expectations remain the same for a program that is one of the Division II gold standards.

One of the best and brightest young head coaches in the nation, Wooden will continue to raise the bar of excellence and enhance the West Chester brand.

ABOUT WOODEN

The Wilmington, Del., native played all four years at WCU under Deirdre Kane, earning Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Eastern Division first team honors on three different occasions.

During her first season in 1999-2000, Wooden, who played under her maiden name, Kiera Manlove, was named the PSAC East rookie of the year.

Wooden was named the team's MVP on three different occasions and claimed outstanding scholar-athlete honors twice. She currently ranks fifth all-time in scoring with 1,378 points and stands 11th in scoring average at 12.2 points per game.

Wooden holds the school record for field goals made (569), ranks fourth in field goal attempts (1,300), sixth in free throws made (240) and fourth in free throws attempted (408). Wooden also ranks second all-time in WCU history in rebounds (871) and third in steals (259) while her 7.7 rebounds per game average stands fifth.

In her four years as a Golden Rams player, Wooden was the quintessential student-athlete. In addition to her success on the court, she produced a 3.74 grade-point average while earning a degree in Kinesiology. She also secured three minor degrees in nutrition, health and coaching.

Wooden was a four-time PSAC scholar-athlete, an eight-time member of the WCU Athletic Director's Academic Honor Roll, a PSAC Winter Top 10 selection and a 2002 Arthur Ashe Award winner. She served two years as team captain and was a regular on the Dean's List.

Wooden currently resides in Wilmington, Del., with her husband, Charles and their son, Christopher. She earned her master's degree in Sports and Athletic Administration at West Chester University in 2006.


- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad

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