July 30, 2012
Navy head coach Stefanie Pemper took a break this summer to answer some questions at the team's 2011-12 season. After winning the program's first Patriot League Tournament title in 2011, the Mids successfully repeated their championship in 2012 and made their second consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Two Patriot League Tournament championships and two NCAA Tournament appearances in only four years on The Yard. A program that had never won a championship since its inception in 1975. What's your secret?
"The things we've done well are similar keys to any team being successful: Hard work, great team chemistry, playing smart basketball, rising to challenges, making shots, players trusting the coaches, and a little luck. We have a very supportive Navy community with great fans, facilities, resources and administration. We've also had great talent. Angela Myers `11 and Cassie Consedine '11 are timeless talents in the Navy women's program. So is Jade Geif `14, and hopefully a few of her classmates when their careers are over. A player like KC Gordon `10 did the little things and made plays. And Erin Edwards `12 was a heck of a shooter, leader and smart player."
Jade Geif followed a Rookie of the Year season with another gem as a sophomore. Is there something about Jade you see every day that the public doesn't get to see?
"Jade practices every day exactly like she plays in games and that is incredibly rare in a young person. She expects a lot of herself and she expects a lot of her teammates. Jade is intense and it's such a joy for me to be around a person so relentlessly passionate about something. At the same time she's so open to feedback and being a better player and leader. I really appreciate Jade's genuineness and big heart and feel really blessed to work with her."
American went through the conference season as the first 14-0 team in Patriot League history, defeating Navy by five and three points in the regular season. How did you win the Patriot League Tournament championship?
"We just stayed at it. We were frustrated by our American losses, realizing we lost them both in the final minute, but we weren't discouraged. We believed we could make it to the final and we knew we'd probably see them. It's awesome to play for seeding in the regular season -- and the right to host games -- and it's awesome to start the tournament and know it's `one-and-done.' Getting another crack at Colgate had us focused for the quarterfinals, and then you had the fireworks of the semifinals, with Holy Cross shocking the league by winning at American.
"Our non-league season was rich with challenging opponents and game situations. It seemed like every game was decided by single-digits. We were learning what life was like without graduated seniors Myers and Consedine, and we were starting four sophomores."
Kara Pollinger emerged as not only your starting point guard as just a sophomore, she also was named to the Patriot League all-tournament team, and this spring was named captain of next year's team. What does she mean to the program?
"Kara is a really, really special young woman. She received limited minutes as a freshman and then put it together this past year and gave me no choice but to play her 30 minutes a game. Kara is `The Little Engine That Could.' She plays with so much enthusiasm she makes you want to play basketball. She reminds me of Magic Johnson in that way. Kara exudes honesty and integrity and handles situations so well. Sometimes I watch her and think she must've come from another planet."
It was a championship season with a lot of big wins. Is there one win that was bigger then all the others?
"Winning the conference tournament semifinal game at Lehigh was the biggest. Without that win our season is over and we don't experience the magic of the championship game a week later or the NCAA Tournament. I respect Lehigh's program and I knew it would take a lot to beat their seniors Emily Gratch and Alexa Williams, especially. Plus, we'd never won there since I've been here. Strangely, a team picture was taken in the locker room after that game and it's one of my favorites of all time. It really captures the beauty of sport and a tight-nit group of women that felt the exhilaration of hard work paying off."
You don't interact with referees much during the course of a game. How did you develop that philosophy?
"If I were a ref I would take pride in my work and I would want people to leave me alone and let me focus on the game. Refs deserve respect and are a huge part of our game. That said, I am one who believes they are best when you don't notice them. I like it when fans get to watch the players play basketball, not when they have to watch coaches and refs arguing, or refs making poor calls. I like to honor the players and competition. Plus everywhere I've coached I've had good refs; our staff and players are responsible for our outcomes, not refs."
Have you seen a change in the kind of recruits you're able to attract?
"Yes, but we'll know for sure with this class. It isn't just about finding good players, it's about finding the right players. Having a healthy, successful program isn't easy. It takes driven young women who love playing basketball and who have the maturity to communicate and work well with others. Our players aren't entitled to success, they have to work at it. We have a few recruits right now who I absolutely love and who I know are `right.'"
You played Maryland tough for 30 minutes in the NCAA tournament. Is there anything you would do differently if you played the game over?
"No, nothing that I think would be more effective. Our players executed well on both ends, we just didn't hit enough shots and that allowed them to get transition baskets in the second half that was the margin of difference. We needed more points on the board. I thought we took good shots, some of them we had to get off quicker because of Maryland's length and athleticism and it affected our accuracy. Last year after losing to DePaul in the NCAA Tournament by 13 I wished I'd had a couple more out-of-bounds plays in my pocket because it could have helped. This year nothing comes to mind like that.
"The NCAA Tournament is so special. I tell our players how lucky they are to play in so many big games every year. But they really deserve it; they work so hard. Their courage in the Maryland game was something I'll never forget. This team literally brought me to tears; I was so proud of them and had so much respect for them."
Alix Membreno and Audrey Bauer started every game for you this year. Comment on their development.
"I was so happy to see Alix receive all-conference honors. She does so many things for us on the court and as a leader. She has nice patience for someone so invested in what she's doing. Alix plays with every part of her body and it was nice to see her hard work pay off in terms of staying healthy this year.
"Audrey is such an x-factor for us. She's hit some of the most memorable shots of the past two years. Her confidence got us going in our big win over Princeton this year, and she hit the big shots that started the run that won the Star Game versus Army. Like Jade, Audrey sets a high standard for everyone and she is very committed to being good.
"What I appreciate most about Alix and Audrey, however, is their vision for our program. Both of them came in with a hunger to contribute to a championship team. They never took a back seat to anyone and they instantly had a lot of confidence in their teammates, and in what we all could do together. Their independence at such a young age is admirable."
What have the players been up to this summer?
"Erin was able to stay on the Yard as part of the Plebe Summer staff and spends time with our incoming freshmen nearly every day in the gym or weight room. It's an awesome opportunity for her to introduce them to our values, and for them to learn the ropes from her. Audrey studied abroad for a few weeks in Germany, Chloe Stapleton had training in Hawaii for three weeks, and our rising junior class spent a few weeks in San Diego learning about The Marine Corps, submarines, planes and helicopters. They all took a summer school course in Annapolis and many of them coached at our summer basketball camp for girls."