New Stony Brook women’s basketball coach Caroline McCombs might be a first-time head coach, but she comes with a reputation as an aggressive recruiter and an impressive pedigree that includes 11 postseason berths in 15 years as an assistant at top-level schools like Auburn, Northwestern and Pitt, as well as mid-level Valparaiso.
Predecessor Beth O’Boyle, in her three seasons before moving to VCU, took the program from four wins to 24 last year and an NIT berth. In McCombs’ introductory news conference on Friday, the new coach said she plans to use that foundation as a launching pad for even greater success. That means drawing on her major conference experience to recruit similar athletes to Stony Brook in the one-bid America East Conference.
“I love recruiting at a high level,” said McCombs, who spent the past two seasons as recruiting coordinator at Auburn. “We’ll get the best possible student-athletes we can into Stony Brook.
“The time is now. The table has been set to continue to build this program. The new arena will be attractive, and education is a big piece. I love to recruit high-level student-athletes like we did at Northwestern. I will be talking about the academics at Stony Brook, the way the program is growing and all the things we have here to help them succeed in the classroom and on the court.”
McCombs said the adjustment she’s making from competing in the power conferences to SBU is in her “comfort zone” because she spent her playing career at Youngstown State and later assisted six years at Valpo.
“Recruiting is the same as developing relationships with the student-athletes and parents that you are recruiting,” McCombs said. “It’s just finding the fit for Stony Brook and for our system and style of play.”
New Seawolves athletic director Shawn Heilbron credited senior associate athletic director Donna Woodruff with a major assist in keeping the search for O’Boyle’s replacement on track while he prepared his family for its cross-country move from Oregon State University to SBU later this month. Just as he brings major-college fundraising experience to Stony Brook, Heilbron said McCombs’ background made her the top candidate to produce a consistent contender for conference titles and the school’s first NCAA bid in Division I.
“Caroline’s ability to recruit and her recruiting network is significant,” Heilbron said. “That’s what she’s known for. She’s a tireless recruiter. Any former coach you talk to will tell you that. I think she is the right leader at the right time to take us over the top.”
McCombs described the interview process with Heilbron as more of a conversation than a formal job interview. “We were having conversations about our beliefs and vision, and they were parallel,” McCombs said. “It just felt right.”
The new coach met her Seawolves players for the first time at 8:30 Friday morning before the press conference. One of her first priorities will be to re-recruit three incoming freshmen guards who committed to Stony Brook under O’Boyle, including Shaunie Butler, Kacie Juday and Aaliyah Worley. None of the three has yet approached SBU about transferring because of the coaching change.
The newcomers and the veterans from last season’s 24-9 WNIT team should have no trouble sensing McCombs’ passion when she describes her approach to the game. “Defensively, we’re going to get after it, we’re going to press, we’re going to force havoc on the defensive end,” McCombs said. “You have to go with what you have to be successful, so, I’ll be smart with those types of things.
“Offensively, it’s a matter of getting a feel for the team and what their strengths and weaknesses are to give us the best opportunity to put the ball in the basket. That will come from the defensive end first; it will come from offensive rebounding second, and then it will come from our transition offense and execution in the half-court third.”
The timing couldn’t be better for McCombs to get her first head coaching job at Stony Brook. The $21 million renovation of the 4,000-seat arena is nearing completion and will open this season. A seat selection event for season-ticket holders is scheduled this Sunday.
“You really couldn’t ask for anything more beautiful to start your first job and coach your first game in,” McCombs said. “That’s phenomenal. A lot of people have worked really hard to get that building into place, so, I’m really appreciative to have the opportunity to coach in that arena.”