Women’s basketball celebrates 50 years

Categories:  Sports    Year In Review 2016: Sports
Wednesday, December 7th, 2016 at 6:16 PM
Women’s basketball celebrates 50 years by Mike Lantinen
Photo: Mike Lantinen

Nearly every organization that hits a 50-year mark celebrates in some way. 

And if there’s stability in that organization, as there is with the Edinboro women’s basketball team, there’s even more to celebrate.

That stability starts in the form of their head coach, Stan Swank, who has been at the head for 30 years. Perched in a room on the first floor of McComb Fieldhouse, not far from the court itself, Swank’s room lay littered with game balls, PSAC and NCAA tournament trophies, and keepsakes of what remains from his many years of coaching.

Currently sitting at a career record of 539-295, Swank shows no signs of letting up anytime soon. He’s appeared in 10 NCAA tournaments, two of which he’s made the elite eight in and he’s won four PSAC championships along the way.

“You don’t stay somewhere if you don’t like who you’re working with, the environment, and everything. I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve had great players, great people,” Swank said.

Accompanied on the bench by his assistant, Callie Wheeler, the two of them have put together an impressive 217-85 record over the past 10 years, making a case for the best coaching combination in the entire PSAC.

Swank admired Wheeler, stating: “The last 10 years having Cali have made it remarkably easy for me. She does a great job and it’s like we have two head coaches. She knows exactly what’s going on. She played for me so she knows how everything works, all the intricate things.”

Wheeler added: “He’s been here for 30 years so the kids have an utmost respect for his program, because he’s been so successful and they know when [they] come here they buy into his system and they can become good players.”

Player turnover, a crucial aspect of the consistently competitive program here at Edinboro, has been a never ending work in progress for Swank. Between recruitment of high school talent and transfer students, talent can be found all over, but it’s the way that he approaches that recruitment that helps him separate his program from the rest.

“...As far as characteristics, I think we really have to look at people who are winners. Players that want to win. Players that are hungry, people like Katie (Fisher), she’s a competitor, she’s fierce,” Swank said.

“We get kids who we think will fit well with Edinboro university. We’ve been very, very fortunate because we’ve been very successful the past several years so we’re getting a lot of people that want to come here.”

Players want to be a part of a successful organization. That’s always been the case across the sports world. The Yankees currently look poised to steal MLB superstar Bryce Harper with their resources; NBA teams like the Spurs and most recently, the Warriors, have such a strong representation of a winning environment, free agents are drawn in like LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Durant.

The women’s basketball program here has safely positioned themselves to not become a program that doesn’t appreciate its players as people. Remaining aware of academic success and player chemistry, Swank and Wheeler have continued to stick with what has worked for them.

Wheeler elaborated on Swank’s comments regarding just what kind of players they want in the program that they’ve worked so hard to build. “We’re not just bringing you on our program because you’re an incredible player, we really want to get to know you as a player and invest in you the trust and vise versa.”

Currently fielding a team of 14, five of which are transfers (excluding United Kingdom native Whitney Allen), a balance between the two types of recruiting is something coach Swank has looked for and learned from. Finding recent success in his recruitment of transfer athletes, Swank and Wheeler alike have noticed the benefits of a transfer athlete and embraced it.

“We do prefer transfers just from the experience and maturity. They’re able to come in and right away understand the lifestyle of a college student,” Wheeler said.

“Saying that though, we still recruit freshman because some of them come right in and it doesn’t phase them.”

Senior guard and transfer from Mercyhurst University, Katie Fischer, spoke on how being a transfer helped her. “Transferring from another school gives a player a different point of view from the previous school.”

As beneficial it can be to recruit transfers, Swank and Wheeler realize it’s nearly impossible to ignore the opportunities presented with those athletes coming right out of high school.

“We don’t get caught up in looking at all high school or all transfers,” Swank finalized.

Building a team has been something coveted by organizations across the board and it’s no small task. Continuing to put a product on the court capable of producing both on and off has helped show what Swank is really about.

An obvious result of success bringing in players, Whitney Allen contacted Edinboro University herself when she wanted to play for the program, but international recruits searching for an opportunity stateside is nothing out of the ordinary. 

“I probably get one international student emailing me every other day,” Swank said.

Whitney was an outlier to say the least though. Her father, a former professional basketball player in England and collegiate athlete at Northwest Nazarene, is currently coaching as well. Her sister was a member of Oral Roberts University and played professionally in Italy and France.

Basketball IQ on the court has been Allen’s expertise from the start, bringing a sense of maturity and savviness that's tough to find. There is no question her international play style can be seen in her position, passing ability and off the ball movement.

Swank elaborated on some of the characteristics that Allen and other international students have been able to bring to the program. “She brings things that other players learn from, just not basketball, but life in general. It seems like Europeans are generally more mature at a younger age and part of that is they play club." Swank continued, "With their club, they leave home early and go to (charter) school, so they are leaving at a younger age. She probably left home at 16.”

Currently a medical redshirt for this upcoming season, Allen has a cast on her arm keeping her out for the year. Remaining positive in regards to her return next year, Swank looks forward to what she can bring to the team in the following year.

Allen is also an Edinboro scholar-athlete, continuing a tradition of academic success for the Scots that is consistently sought after by Swank in recruitment and player development.

"We really want to get good students. If somebody's a marginal student, we’ll work and try to help them if they can help us on the court...That’s worked out pretty well for us actually, we’ve really helped some kids develop academically and ultimately graduate,” Swank said.

Everything seems to be coming full circle for the program as they strive for success on and off the court. From year to year, though, adjustments need to be made.

“This year, we put in a new offense, we put in a offense that we felt was very prescriptive of this team...it allows a lot of things to happen in that offense because of being guard oriented,” Swank said about the new year.

A roster in constant flux, advantages are found in different areas, from guards, to forwards, to jump shooting, to scoring in the paint.

“Each year is different, even in some of the past years where we only graduate one or two players. It’s still a different year and every year you have to prepare differently for each team,” Wheeler said.

On the defensive end, the approach is slightly different, as well. Wheeler continued, “Defensively we try to keep the same concepts and try to get the players to buy in, but there are times we have to change up and do different things.”

Swank clarified: “We have a mixture. We have some old things and we have some new things. I think if you become too predictable, teams just know exactly what you’re going to do.”

It helps when your staff in on the same page when it comes to your vision for a team. Between Swank and Wheeler, they understand the need to keep teams guessing, to keep them on their toes. But they also understand the importance of fluidity, allowing players the freedom to play the game the way it was meant to be and giving the offense the ability to adjust on the fly. Wheeler even said they had offenses they have been running for Swank's full 30 years. And as successful as Swank has been, any coach making the Elite 8 is bound to get offers from division one programs.

“We’ve looked at some other things,” Swank admitted.

Swank's passion for the school and commitment to the program can be seen in flying colors, though. “This was a great place to raise kids. GM was a great school and my kids got a great education and then they both came to school here and as they hit that, it was tough to leave. I’ve felt very comfortable and good here,” he said.

Assistant Wheeler had a different take on what the program meant to her. “My four years at Edinboro were the best four years of my life, athletically, socially, academically. I just love this place, [and] it’s home to me. I know I’m from Ambridge, Pa., that’s where I grew up, but Edinboro is my home.”

Allen spoke on the importance of their coaches. “Coach swank and Callie are the driving force for this basketball program, and their knowledge about the game and joint experience is showed through their success together.”

Fisher added: “Basketball has been an amazing experience and I've played with awesome girls. I can't thank my coaches enough for giving me a second chance my junior year and for never giving up on me.

Mike Lantinen is a Sports Editor for The Spectator and can be reached at sports.spectator@gmail.com.

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