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Seattle University's Path to Success Begins with an Experienced Coaching Staff

"I'm a championship coach at a championship university, and I'm here to build a championship program."
- Joan Bonvicini

It is likely that the Seattle University Redhawks will take the court tonight for their first exhibition game against Northwest University tonight at 7pm with modest expectations as they embark upon their first full season in Division I basketball.

Despite relatively low expectations in a town without a particularly strong women's basketball scene in recent years, what will make this story interesting to follow this year is their approach to building a Division I program from the ground up. Their entire season will be an answer to an intriguing question: how should a university build a successful and sustainable Division I program?

For Seattle U, that begins with bringing in an experienced coaching staff, beginning with one of the winningest coaches in women's basketball history.

College Sports | Seattle U. hires Joan Bonvicini as women's basketball coach | Seattle Times Newspaper
Joan Bonvicini did not mince words Tuesday after being announced as Seattle University's women's basketball coach. "I'm a championship coach at a championship university, and I'm here to build a championship program," she said. In Bonvicini, one of only 18 women's basketball coaches in Division I history to win 600 games, Seattle U. thinks it found the best candidate to begin its transition to Division I. The Redhawks will play a full Division I schedule this season, but they do not have a conference and will not be eligible to play in the NCAA tournament for the next three seasons. "Joan, from my perspective, enhances our university, and enhances our women's basketball program immediately," Seattle U. athletic director Bill Hogan said. "She is that kind of a nationally known figure."

Personnel-wise, Bonvicini is probably in a good situation to begin the process of building Seattle U into a successful Division I program. She will inherit a young team that has experienced success with one another.

Ex-UA coach Bonvicini hired by Seattle Univ. | ®
Bonvicini said she inherits a team that includes three newcomers and seven sophomores, and she will not need to sign more players for the 2009-10 season. "They won 20 games. We're going to build on that success," she said. "It's a young team but a good team. Even though this is late in the year as far as having a new coach, we're going to be OK. I'm very excited. Our work is cut out for us, but this is a great area to recruit, not only in the Seattle area, but in the Northwest." Of note, the Redhawks will play Pac-10 opponents Washington and Oregon State this season. As Seattle transitions to Division I, the Redhawks looked to bring in a coach with name recognition. Bonvicini led the Wildcats to seven NCAA tournament appearances, a Pac-10 co-championship and a WNIT title. Arizona last produced a winning season and qualified for the NCAA tournament in 2005.

However, one of the keys to developing a strong Division I program is obviously the recruiting strategy a team employs. For Seattle U, the combination of experience, local ties, and WNBA pedigree will probably go a long way in helping them attract more talent.

Although Seattle U is probably a long way away from attracting the nation's top tier high school talent, having a coaching staff with this much experience signals to future recruits that Seattle U is a place where they can grow as players.

Countdown to Showtime: SeattleU Women's Basketball Set to Take the Floor in First Exhibition Contest - Seattle University Redhawks Athletics
The esteemed women's basketball coach is joined by three new assistant coaches beginning with Jamie Angeli. Angeli, a former assistant at prestigious men's Division I programs like UCLA and South Florida, boasts 25 years in the basketball profession, as a player, coach, administrator and published author. Entering their first season as Division I assistant coaches are Joy Hollingsworth and Kristen O'Neill. Both Pacific Northwest natives are former Pacific-10 student-athletes. Hollingsworth, a former All-Pac 10 selection at the University of Arizona, reunites with her former collegiate coach in Bonvicini. The former Seattle Prep star also spent two seasons at the University of San Francisco, where she was the 2003 West Coast Conference Player of the Year. Rounding out the Redhawk coaching staff is former University of Washington standout Kristen O'Neill. With the Huskies, she was a two-time team Defensive Player of the Year and a Pac-10 All-Freshman Team selection in 2006. In addition to a decorated playing career at UW, she also spent time with local WNBA franchise the Seattle Storm and professional teams overseas.

Building a program begins with being attractive to prospective players. With this type of coaching staff available to develop players -- one that knows what it means to be successful at the college level and make it to the next level -- they are in position to make a strong pitch.

Even if they are not immediately successful on the court, their approach to program development should be interesting to follow.