When coach resigns, basketball players band together

To the surprise of those around her, Jody Hensen, coach of the UAA women’s basketball team for the past three seasons, resigned March 20.

“It kind of caught us off guard,” said basketball player Erin Cunningham." Pretty much more than anything.”

Yet it wasn’t a huge shock to Steve Cobb, UAA’s athletic director.

“It’s surprising, but in the college athletic world change is very common, and I think maybe we all deal with that better than a lot of other places, because it’s more common,” Cobb said. “People go to pursue other things.”

Hensen said she left UAA to pursue a Division I coaching job.

“Well, that’s what she said she wanted to do. She wanted to pursue her coaching career further at the Division I level and there’s certainly some attractive things about that,” Cobb said. “I certainly understand it.”

When Hensen announced her resignation, UAA offered assistant coach Katie Kern, also in her third year at UAA, the chance to stay. But she declined, deciding to move on also.

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Benjamin Smith, in his first season as assistant coach, has indicated to UAA Athletics that he would like to stay. Cobb said UAA will give him that opportunity.

With the departures of Hensen and Kern, UAA is conducting a nationwide search for a new head coach, who, once hired, is expected to do his or her own search for an assistant coach.

Because it is now recruiting season, it is imperative that the Seawolves find a new head coach as soon as possible.

“We just can’t be without someone in charge of the program very long, and we won’t be. We’ll be naming a coach very quickly,” Cobb said.

Cobb wasn’t daunted by the search, but instead appeared confident.

“It’s a pretty high-profile position,” Cobb said. “We’ve been contacted by a lot of people and we’ve contacted some people, and we’re going through the process now of seeing who we think is the best fit and the best possible coach.”

Whenever a coach leaves suddenly like this, there can be lot of uncertainty for the players, but in this case they’ve drawn their focus to become involved in the search for a coach.

“Dr. Cobb’s pretty good about that,” Cunningham said. “He’s kept us really informed. We actually do have a hand in the selection of our next coach, which is why, when they’re interviewed here, they’re also interviewed by the team.”

She said this will give the team a unique opportunity.

“We actually have chances to ask questions and open the floor and do a lot of the things that most teams might not even be able to do when the new selection comes in,” Cunningham said.

This involvement has made the change easier on the players. “It kind of eases your mind a little bit,” Cunningham said. “Losing a coach is obviously extremely hard and feeling like you’re not completely out of control and the situation isn’t completely out of your hands, its much more reassuring.”

While the women wait to find out who their next coach will be, Cunningham said they will stay busy by conducting their own practices, and have a goal to keep the team together.

Team unity and togetherness seemed to be a theme, as both Cunningham and freshman teammate Rebecca Kielpinski mentioned this several times.

“I’ve made great friends here, and we all get along on the team really well,” Kielpinski said. “Coach Hensen’s leaving is hard, but we can all get through it together.”

Cunningham said the stresses of not having a head coach isn’t going to hurt the team, it’s going to make it stronger.

“Our main emphasis is pretty much the more that our team is gelled and bonded together, whatever is thrown at us, we can overcome it just as long as we have that bond still with each other,” Cunningham said. “So that’s the most important thing right now.”