The Orient's Beth Kowitt interviewed Stefanie Pemper, head coach of the Bowdoin Women's Basketball Team, about her record-breaking season.
Orient: Going into the season did you have any idea how far the team would go?
Stefanie Pemper: I had no idea; I never make predictions, even in my own mind. I have too much respect for the process. I knew if the players worked hard, trusted my leadership, and exhibited their own leadership, we had a great chance to win NESCACs and compete with anyone in the NCAA tournament.
It was a question of who would step-up offensively in particular to help Lora. Could we keep morale high? And could we stay focused and healthy? The two factors no one could have predicted were Justine Pouravelis's emergence as a defensive player and someone who gave us a lot of confidence, and Eileen Flaherty's determination and poise.
O: Which moment from this season stands out the most in your mind?
SP: Our Elite Eight win over Scranton. That's the kind of basketball this team is capable of playing, and the kind of confidence it's capable of.
There were a lot of smiles in the second half, even from me much as I tried to fight them. To perform at that level after an emotional win over Southern Maine the night before was just special. I have vivid memories of plays people made, of the team celebrating at the end of the game, of cutting the nets, and of hugging the seniors in particular and not wanting to let go.
Plus, I really felt the love from our fans that day and that they appreciated everything it took all season long to get to that point and finally experience the Final Four.
O: What was the biggest struggle?
SP: There really weren't any struggles by conventional definition. There was such great leadership within the team that even when we hit minor obstacles we responded well and very quickly.
One of our biggest challenges has always been having more people play with confidence and not take a back seat to anyone and having more people, in the two hours they spend at practice, believe they can be better and be determined to be better. We still have room to grow in that area.
O: What made this team so special?
SP: Being so successful with the bull's-eye on our backs. Winning four NESCAC championships in a row is incredible. Being number one in the country the entire year and losing in the national championship game is incredible.
Not only do good teams bring their best to beat you, but it's so difficult to stay disciplined and to keep trying to improve. It's also hard not to run yourself into the ground and to figure out the appropriate amount of pleasure and appreciation you should feel without losing focus.
I remember in December talking to a coaching friend and lamenting that the hardest part of coaching a successful team isn't staying on track but figuring out how to enjoy the experience. These are young women that a minute after you make them run a sprint for not achieving a goal you want to hug them or laugh with them.
Seeing individuals grow was very fulfilling, as was seeing them experience individual success on the court. But I guess what made this team the most special was the camaraderie and how they just pulled out so many big wins.
O: Have you started thinking about next year?
SP: Absolutely. I need some time off, not from the kids or the game, but from the grind, and I'll get that. I'm thrilled about next year; we'll have a lot of talent again, and a great group of young women. I'm excited to see who works hard in the off-season and who is determined to step up next year.
When I was a college player, I was always excited about the next season and that hasn't changed. In between my junior/senior year we graduated seven seniors, four of whom started, but all I could think about all spring and summer was the new players coming in, the new challenges, and how good we could be. I've always been an optimist.
O: What are you plans for the offseason?
SP: To relax, support the spring teams, get started on recruiting, visit Angus King's leadership course, and try to find new things to enjoy. I'll make a trip to Mexico to visit a friend who's having a baby and a trip to the West Coast to see family and maybe visit the training camp of a couple WNBA teams.
O: How is the team dynamic going to change with the loss of this year's seniors?
SP: Well, the locker room will be a lot less stinky, that's for sure. It also may be a bit quieter as those five were always running their mouths about something.
As I said at our senior day dinner, the Class of '04 had pride in our program before there were many tangible things to be proud of. They carried themselves with confidence and class. This year in particular they exuded a ton of integrity, positive energy, and respect for what we were trying to do.
The analogy I'll make is they always had their sleeves rolled up; I honestly don't think they took a lunch break. Lora Trenkle and Courtney Trotta were as good as it gets in terms of captain leadership-two very special young women. All the qualities the Class of '04 possessed are in the underclass players, every single one, and it'll be exciting to see how next year's team comes together.