Beth O'Boyle arrived at Stony Brook three years ago with what she described as a "clear vision" of how to transform the women's basketball program. But in the darkest days of that first 4-26 season in 2011-12, she concedes it was difficult to see very far down the road.
"When you're going through that first year and you win a game in January and you don't win another game until the following November, it tests your confidence level and your commitment," O'Boyle said recently. "Year three is much nicer than year one, but it's a process. You have to go through those bumps so you can enjoy things a little bit more when you get to this point."
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Year three of the O'Boyle transformation has turned out better than anyone could have imagined. After making a 10-win improvement in O'Boyle's second season, the Seawolves (22-7, 13-3 America East) have leaped another eight wins and counting, entering the conference tournament as the second seed for their quarterfinal opener against UMBC (4-24, 3-15) at noon tomorrow at SEFCU Arena on the Albany campus.
"You want to go into the tournament with lots of confidence and being healthy, and we'll have a good run at it," O'Boyle said.
The Seawolves accomplished that goal in grand fashion, upsetting top-seeded defending champion Albany (25-4, 15-1) in the regular-season finale at SEFCU Arena and snapping the Great Danes' record 38-game America East winning streak. Now, a postseason berth is within the Seawolves' grasp -- either the automatic NCAA berth that goes to the winner of the conference tournament or the WNIT bid that goes to the highest-seeded team after the America East champion.
Stony Brook made the 2006 Women's NIT, but that is the only postseason bid in the program's Division I history. "Postseason in general is a huge jump for this program," O'Boyle said.
O'Boyle came to Stony Brook as the assistant head coach at Canisius after previously serving as head coach at Division III Montclair State in New Jersey. "When I looked at the Stony Brook job, I thought it was a hidden gem in the America East," O'Boyle said. "You're close to New York City; it has great academics and unbelievable facilities. They hadn't really tapped into the local recruiting area. We went after New York, Philly and the D.C.-Maryland area."
Her first recruiting class included Jessica Previlon, who has gone on to play professionally in Europe and Sabre Proctor, who transferred from North Carolina A & T and had to sit out that first season. She's now a junior and the third-leading scorer in the conference with a 14.9 average. She wanted to be closer to her home in Harrisburg, Pa., but was uncertain about Stony Brook because of the new coach.
"But Coach O'Boyle just connected," Proctor said. "I felt like this was the place for me to be. She had this feistiness in her, the kind of coach I would want to push me to make me better.
"One of the big reasons I came here is because they were one of the worst programs. I didn't want to go to a big school and just be another player. I wanted to make an impact. Here, I'm a big fish in a little pond. I wanted to help bring the program up, which the team and coach O'Boyle have done."
Three other major recruits were transfer guard Chikilra Goodman (11.8 points, 7.8 rebounds), who is now a senior, sophomore guard Brittany Snow (9.9 points, 5.1 rebounds) and soph guard Miranda Jenkins (7.3 points). Junior guard Jessica Ogunnorin (8.9 points, 7.5 rebounds) arrived this season as a transfer, and 5-5 freshman point guard Kori Bayne-Walker (5.1 points) has been a dynamic presence off the bench.
"I do enjoy coaching athleticism," O'Boyle said. "We really tried to get after it in our recruiting . . . This year, our offensive style was able to change because of the players we recruited. Controlling the boards is a big deal. Jess, Sabre, Chikilra and Brittany do a great job of that, and then, we're able to run. I think every kid loves to play an up-tempo style."
Proctor said the biggest accomplishment for this year's team was learning to win rather than settle for playing close games. Now, the Seawolves are dreaming of bigger things. "We want to win and to make it to the NCAA or the WNIT," Proctor said. "It would be making history. It hasn't been done here in some time. We have a special group. It can be done this year or next year."