Maybe Bobbie Kelsey was in over her head – it’s quite a leap to go from a #3 assistant to head coach at a Power 5 school, even if the assistantship was at a program like Tara VanDerveer’s Stanford. But Kelsey had five seasons in Madison, and the numbers show sufficient progress wasn’t being made.
(On a more personal note, I feel badly for Sasha Palmer. We crossed paths when I held down the dual roles of SID and play-by-play at Concord and she was head coach at Pitt-Johnstown; the Mountain Lions and Mountain Cats were members of the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. She was pleasantly surprised to discover not only that I was a fellow Cheesehead, but that I knew Watertown High School’s nickname – Goslings – and I remembered her days there as a star player.
(As a coach, she made the jump to Division I as an assistant at Syracuse. But just after she landed a job in her home state, in a city less than an hour from her hometown, she’s shown the door. Such is the life of a college coach.)
Wisconsin has struggled for years, leading to the question: Can women’s basketball succeed at the UW?
A few years ago, when I still lived in Wisconsin and was much more tuned in to high school basketball there, my opinion would be much more informed. But I still know enough to spout off here, and the answer that question.
The Badgers have been their most competitive when building a team around in-state players. UW’s high point as a program came in the early ‘90s, when native daughters like Katie Voight, Ann Klapperich and Jenna Burkholder were the foundation of a run of three NCAA Tournament appearances in four years.
The last time Wisconsin earned an NCAA bid – under Lisa Stone in 2010 – the Badgers featured state players Rae Lin D’Alie, Taylor Wurtz and Lin Zastrow. But Stone would be gone after a 16-15 record the following season; Kelsey succeeded her, and now the UW finds itself seeking her successor.
(Stone is currently in her 4th season at St. Louis. The Billikens went 39-53 in her first three seasons, but are currently 24-6 and in the semifinals of Atlantic 10 conference tournament.)
Even as the Badgers were kept some in-state stars in the ‘90s, they lost out on potential superstars. Niagara’s Anna DeForge went to Nebraska. Racine’s Sonja Henning went to Stanford. Janesville’s Mistie Bass went to Duke. Stevens Point’s Janel McCarville went to Minnesota. All four would go on to lengthy professional careers.
Bass and McCarville shared high school player of the year honors in 2001; Badger head coach Jane Albright’s inability land either of them may have contributed to her ouster in 2003.
It’s no surprise to find that UW Athletic Director Barry Alvarez (who fired Stone and brought in Kelsey) wants the new coach to emphasize in-state recruiting. “I see a lot of players from Wisconsin starting at a lot of other places and (being) successful,” Alvarez told the Wisconsin State Journal. “You have a lot to sell here and I don’t see why this shouldn’t garner the interest of a number of coaches.”
Indeed, Kevin Borseth built UW-Green Bay into a perennial NCAA Tournament participant largely on in-state players. (At the time of this writing his record at UWGB is 321-83.) Granted, there’s a huge difference between the Horizon League and the B1G 10/12/14, but this season the Phoenix are 26-3 and will host the conference tournament starting next Thursday. Eleven of their 14 players are Wisconsin products.
Wisconsin produces top-tier talent; the challenge for the Badgers’ new coach is to overcome years of underachieving recruiting to convince that talent to stay home.
Choose wisely, Barry Alvarez.