Navy women's basketball vs. Kentucky in the 2013 NCAA Tournament, March 24. Photos by Garrett Ewald.
Two-time Patriot League Coach of the Year Stefanie Pemper enters her seventh season as the head coach of the Mids in the fall of 2014. Pemper, who was a court coach for the trials to select the 2014 USA Basketball's U18 squad, has overseen a renaissance of the program since her arrival in the spring of 2008.
Consider the differences in the fortunes of the program before and in the six seasons after her hiring:
Before: 18 winning seasons in 31 years, including just six in 17 seasons on the Division I level and one in the prior nine years ... After: Six winning seasons;
Before: Four winning seasons in Patriot League regular season games in 17 seasons, including none in the prior nine seasons ... After: Six winning seasons;
Before: A Patriot League regular season record of 98-118 (45.4%) in 17 seasons -- including a 46-76 (37.7%) record in the prior nine seasons -- and a winning record against just two of the seven teams in the league ... After: A record of 60-28 (68.2%) and winning records versus six of those same seven teams as well as against the two 2013-14 newcomers to the league, Boston U. and Loyola;
Before: Shared the Patriot League regular season title once and placed no lower than in a tie for third place five times ... After: Won the regular season crown outright once and shared it twice while finishing no lower than in a tie for third place six times;
Before: A Patriot League Tournament record of 9-17 (34.6%), including a 1-9 record (10%) in the prior nine years ... After: A record of 12-3 (80%) in the event;
Before: Two appearances in the championship game of the Patriot League Tournament -- none in the prior nine years -- without winning the title ... After: Three tournament titles;
Before: No post-season appearances ... After: Three trips to the NCAA Tournament and one to the WNIT.
Navy's run of league crowns began with the 2010-11 season. The Mids posted an overall record of 20-12 that season, which marked just the third 20-win campaign in program history and the first in 13 seasons. Navy also finished the Patriot League's regular season with a share of the league crown -- for the first time in 13 years and the second time in school history -- with a record of 10-4. The Mids entered the 2011 league tournament as the top-seeded team for the first time in Navy's two-decade membership in the league. Navy would make its No. 1 seed hold up as the Mids advanced to the program's first NCAA Tournament in their 20th season of competition on the Division I level.
Pemper would be recognized that year as the Patriot League Coach of the Year.
The 2011-12 campaign saw the Mids garner the No. 3 seed in the Patriot League Tournament with a league mark of 8-6 as part of an overall record of 18-14. After posting a win over No. 6 Colgate in the quarterfinal round, Navy went on the road to knock off No. 2 seed Lehigh in the semifinal round of the tournament. The Mids then topped Holy Cross in the championship game to once again cut down the nets in Alumni Hall.
The 2012-13 saw Navy compile an 11-3 record in league play (21-12 overall) to earn a share of the league's regular season title. Playing at home in each round of the tournament, the Mids ran their winning streak in the postseason to nine games in a row to become just the second program in league history to win as many as three-consecutive tournament titles.
Last year, Navy set a school record with its overall mark of 24-8 and won the first outright regular season title in school history with a 15-3 mark against Patriot League foes. Pemper would earn her second Patriot League Coach-of-the-Year nod after the end of the regular season.
The Mids have represented both Navy and the Patriot League well in each of their four post-season appearances.
In Navy's 2013 trip to March Madness, it became the first Patriot League team to hold a halftime lead in an NCAA Tournament game in over two decades as the No. 15 Mids held the lead over No. 2 seed and seventh-ranked Kentucky for all but two minutes of the first half before taking a 26-25 lead at the break. The Mids were within six points of the Wildcats late in the second half before Kentucky recorded a 61-41 win.
In Navy's initial NCAA Tournament trip, No. 14 Mids gave DePaul, the region's No. 3 seed and the ninth-ranked team in the country, a battle in the 2011 edition of the event. Navy held the lead over the Blue Demons in the second half and was within single digits of the eventual Sweet 16-advancing DePaul squad with five minutes remaining in the game before falling, 56-43. It was the closest game played by a Patriot League team since 1991.
Navy received the No. 15 seed in the 2012 NCAA Tournament and was sent to nearby College Park for a first round game at Maryland. The Mids gave the No. 2 seeded-Terrapins all they wanted as Navy was within seven points of the eventual Elite Eight-bound Maryland squad before losing a 59-44 decision. The 59 points was a new season low for the Terrapins and was 19 points below their season average of 78.8 points per game.
Navy's three NCAA Tournament losses have been by an average of 16.0 points and by no more than 20 points, while the remainder of the league has lost its 18 games by an average more than 35 points and each contest by at least 21 points.
The Mids went on the road to face Old Dominion in the first round of the 2014 WNIT. Navy trailed the Monarchs by just three points in the game's waning minutes before late free throws gave the home team a 68-60 victory.
The turnaround in fortunes for the program began in Pemper's inaugural season of 2008-09. That year she guided the Mids to a 16-15 overall record and an 8-6 mark in Patriot League play. The 16 wins attained by the team was an improvement of nine wins over the 2007-08 season. The 2008-09 Mids not only ranked as the most improved team in Navy history, the squad also tied for 13th place nationally in terms of the biggest turnarounds in terms of victory totals from the prior season. Navy's league mark also was the best for the Mids since the 1997-98 season, while its tie for third place was the best for the program in a decade.
Her initial campaign was capped off by Navy defeating Bucknell in the quarterfinal round of the Patriot League Tournament. The win was the first for the Mids in the tournament in five years and just the second by Navy in the postseason in a decade. It also was Navy's first win over Bucknell in the Patriot League Tournament and snapped an overall nine-game losing skid to the Bison.
The success for the squad continued in her second season. The 2009-10 campaign saw Navy compile an overall record of 17-14 along with an 8-6 mark in the league and earn the No. 3 seed in the league tournament. That led to the Mids recording a victory over Colgate in the quarterfinal round of the postseason. Additionally that year, Navy attained its first season sweep of Holy Cross in school history, its first regular season sweep of Bucknell in over a decade, a sweep of Army for the first time in seven years and the return of the Army-Navy Trophy after a seven-year hiatus.
Coaching at Bowdoin
Pemper arrived in Annapolis after compiling a sparkling 235-48 record over her decade as the head coach of Bowdoin. Her career winning percentage of 83% ranked fourth in NCAA Division III history upon her departure. The Polar Bears also compiled a New England Small College Athletic Conference regular season record of 65-7 (.903) during her tenure and claimed at least a share of six conference regular season titles to go along with seven conference tournament crowns.
Pemper's teams were especially dominant at home, winning 76 consecutive games from 2001-07, the fourth-longest home winning streak in NCAA Division III history.
Bowdoin's success was not limited to the conference level under Pemper, who also served as the school's Senior Woman Administrator, as the program qualified for the NCAA Tournament in all but one of her 10 years at the school. The Polar Bears made seven consecutive Sweet 16 appearances from 2001-07 and advanced to the Elite Eight in six straight years (2002-07).
School history was made by the team during its magical 2003-04 season. Bowdoin compiled a 30-1 record on the year, with its lone loss coming in the NCAA National Championship Game. It was the first national title game appearance for any team in Bowdoin history.
At the conclusion of the 2003-04 season, Pemper was selected as the WBCA NCAA Division III National Coach of the Year. She also was tabbed as the District I Coach of the Year in both 2003 and `04, and was named as the NESCAC Coach of the Year in 2002, `04, and `06.
In addition to her accolades, Pemper's players also regularly were honored on the national level. The laurels included Lora Trenkle (2004) and Eileen Flaherty (2007) garnering First-Team All-America accolades and Flaherty being selected as the WBCA National Player of the Year.
Pemper was inducted into the New England Basketball Hall of Fame in October of 2009.
Playing at Idaho State
A native of Huntington Beach, Calif., Pemper is a 1992 graduate of Idaho State. She would earn All-Big Sky Conference laurels during her final two seasons at the school and be inducted into its hall of fame in 2003.
Pemper earned a pair of degrees at the school, first a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication (1992) then a Master's of Physical Education/Athletic Administration (1997).
Early Coaching Career
Following graduation and the conclusion of her playing career, Pemper quickly ascended through the collegiate coaching ranks. After one season as a graduate assistant at Alaska-Anchorage, she returned to her alma mater to begin a two-year stint as a member of the school's coaching staff. From there, Pemper traveled to the East Coast to join the staff at Harvard.
The Crimson won at least 20 games during each of her three seasons in Cambridge and posted a 39-3 Ivy League record over that time. Harvard won the conference title and advanced to the NCAA Tournament in each of her three years. After losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in both 1996 and `97, Harvard became the first -- and only -- No. 16 seed in either the women's or men's national tournament to win a first round game when the Crimson topped the No. 1 seed Stanford Cardinal.