To quote Thin Lizzy’s hit song, the [Bears] are back in town. The successes of the College’s women’s basketball team are formidable: the team has posted a winning overall record since the 1990s, leads the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) in championship victories and has been in the finals of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division III championship in the last two completed tournaments. However, the Polar Bears face significant obstacles after COVID-19 hindered the completion of the team’s 2019-20 season and cancelled its 2020-21 season. In addition to not having completed a full season since 2019-20, the team has lost former Head Coach Adrienne Shibles, who accepted a position leading the Dartmouth women’s basketball program.
To fill Shibles’ role, the College hired Sacha Santimano, formerly the head coach of the women’s basketball program at Eastern Nazarene College (ENC) in Massachusetts, in June. Santimano described herself as humbled to take over such a dynastic program. At ENC, she coached for 10 seasons and received numerous awards for her successes.
Santimano emphasized the importance of team culture, acknowledging that the most successful programs have tight bonds between coaches and players.
“The common denominator [of past Bowdoin teams] is the strong culture and sense of community on the team, which comes from current players, coaches and finding the right players moving forward,” Santimano said.
Captains Annie Boasberg ’22 and Sela Kay ’22 praised Santimano’s relationship-driven approach to coaching as helpful and constructive for the team, especially after the unexpected exit of Shibles.
“Immediately after being hired she reached out to the players to set up individual phone calls with each of us,” Kay said. “It really shows who she is as a coach—she wants to know us as people before stepping on a court with her.”
Santimano was involved in a variety of aspects of student and athletic life at ENC, overseeing the Student Athlete Advisory Committee and acting as chair for the Retention Task Force and the Racial and Social Justice Committees. Kay and Boasberg, who were involved in the College’s hiring process for a new Head Coach, noted that Santimano’s previous involvement with Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) work made her stand out among the candidates competing for the Head Coach position.
“We were set on someone who would empower us as leaders on and off the court. Coach Santimano’s care for the community and making her players better female leaders informed our decision,” Boasberg said. “She’s incredibly driven, passionate and focused. Even though I’ve never seen her coach, I know she will be very poised and direct. The motto she has been using lately is ‘stronger together.’”
The admiration goes both ways, as Santimano praised Kay and Boasberg’s leadership abilities and basketball knowledge.
“I don’t know where I’d be without them,” Santimano said. “I’ve asked them a lot of questions, and they’ve been nothing but helpful. The way you can tell that they’re good leaders is that they create leaders under them, which helps solidify that team culture.”
Because Kay, Boasberg and Tatum Angotti ’22 all took year-long personal leaves of absence, there are no seniors on the team—a rarity for most of the College’s varsity sports teams. With an abundance of juniors and nine players on the team who have never completed a season, Boasberg and Kay are committed to building strong personal relationships with all members of the team.
“It was really important for us to maintain and build good relationships with the sophomores and first years, who we had never met in person,” Boasberg said. “Throughout the summer and spring semester we’ve really started to build those relationships and reach out to them and have many Zoom meetings. We find it incredibly valuable for our team to have really intentional, close relationships. We think that translates really well to the court.”