If Robyne Bostick, the interim head coach for the Northern Arizona women’s basketball team, is trying to show she deserves the head-coach title following this season, she’s off to a good start. The Lumberjacks have won the first two games on their 2016-17 schedule.
Yeah, yeah, I know. There are still 27 games left to play, maybe more if the ‘Jacks make it into the post-season.
But here’s why this fast start is significant: This is the first time in nine years (and only the sixth time in program history) that the woman’s basketball team has had a 2-0 start. Pretty discouraging, right? Especially if you’re a hoops fan in Flagstaff.
However, that’s the sorry state this D-I program has fallen into.
There have been 10 head women’s basketball coaches in the Lumberjack program over the past 40 years – and only two of those coaches have posted at least one 20-win season. In truth, there have been just three 20-win marks among the entire run of 40 seasons. Meg Sanders did it during the 1997-98 season and Laurie Kelly won 22 in 2005-06 and 20 the next year. But Kelly couldn’t win more than 11 games in any one season for the final four years of her nine-year tenure.
Next up was Sue Darling, who was an assistant coach at University of Arizona when she was hired to take over in 2012. Darling had double-digit wins just once in her four years at NAU, posting a 13-17 record during her second season, 9-9 in the Big Sky Conference.
After a 6-24 record last season, and just two conference wins, Darling was relieved of her command in September. The only question to ask was why it took Lisa Campos, the school’s VP for Intercollegiate Athletics, so long to pull the trigger.
Darling finished with a 36-82 overall record and 24-52 in the Big Sky.
This time, the school is taking a different approach to hiring, electing to wait until the end of this season before naming a new head coach. Bostick had been serving as an assistant on Darling’s staff for the last four years, so the transition to the end of the bench for this season was seamless. In the past, she has worked primarily with the post players, so there will be some adjustment to carrying the entire program on her shoulders.
But she brings a full resume to the job. Bostick has been in the college coaching game for more than a decade, with stops at Princeton, Air Force, Vanderbilt, and James Madison. Before coming to Flagstaff she was on staff at Long Island University.
However, unlike her predecessors, she has no head-coaching experience. Darling was head coach at the Air Force Academy for three years and Kelly spent five years as a head coach.
Bostick takes over a program that has senior leadership to guide the squad through her first season. The six seniors on the roster include five that have been with the program all four years: Rene Coggins, Brittani Lusain, Bradlee Cotton, Taylor Leyva, and Catelyn Preston. Chelena Betoney is an in-state walk-on this year who attended Valley High School in Sanders.
In the season-opening 65-51 win over UTEP, Coggins and Lusain each chipped in 18 points, behind redshirt junior guard Olivia Lucero who led with 19. That victory marked the first time in four years the ‘Jacks have been able to beat the Texas team in El Paso.
In the second game, a 109-60 romp over Antelope Valley, Coggins took the scoring lead with another 18-point performance, followed by Lucero with 16. Brittani and redshirt junior forward Kenna McDavis contributed 11 points each.
But freshman Raina Perez, a local recruit from Millennium High School in Goodyear, made a statement with 13 points off the bench in just her second career game.
Bostick is getting a lot of production from local athletes. Coggins attended Mountain View High School in Mesa and McDavis and Lucero are transfers who spent their high school years in the Valley. McDavis went to Pinnacle High School in Phoenix before playing two years for Boise State and Lucero went from Highland High in Gilbert to Loyola Marymount for her first two years of college ball.
The opening win could be seen as a yardstick for measuring this team against those that played under Sue Darling. That victory was the first time in 30 years the ‘Jacks have beaten UTEP on the road, and the first time in a decade they have begun the season with a road win.
Yes, it’s still a long way to go. But Bostick has instilled in her players something lacking in recent years…confidence.
And that goes a long way toward accomplishing what could become NAU’s first winning season in 10 years.
(Photo: NAU Athletics)