Arms locked with her players in a circle at center court of the Connolly Center, Seattle University women’s basketball coach Joan Bonvicini closed their afternoon practice with simple words of inspiration for their first game tonight against Northwest University.
"This is our house, you need to protect your house…so beat the hell out of ‘em," Bonvicini said calmly, with an almost matter-of-fact determination.
That calm, matter-of-fact determination wrapped in high expectations defined both the practice and her demeanor as she ran her team through drills in preparation for their first exhibition game tonight at 7 p.m. on their home court.
Finding an opportunity to teach at almost every moment, she neither raised her voice nor showed any outward display of frustration the entire practice – she calmly stated what she expected, stated what she saw, and clearly stated how they could improve in future situations. Bonvicini carried herself with a singularly focused intensity without being overbearing or inducing excessive anxiety.
Hours before their first game with a new coach, there was an air of calm that seemed to emanate from Bonvicini to her assistant coaches and the players.
"We’re very excited to get things underway," said Bonvicini in the same tone she closed practice. "This team is coming off of a 20-win season, which is exciting. The thing that’s challenging -- initially we’re going to be down a few players and that’s just the way it is. I think our kids are focused, they’ve been working very, very hard and it’s a team game and so we still have very high expectations."
It never seems to occur to Bonvicini that her players will fail to meet her expectations and the players consistently respond, whether tightening their footwork or getting out on a shooter in a 2-3 zone set. Yet for a team of players originally recruited to play Division II basketball now transitioning to Division I, the air of calm is more likely the result of 29-years of experience coaching Division I basketball than the manifestation of over-confidence.
"This is my first year here, but I’m an experienced Division I coach and I know what it takes," said Bonvicini in response to a question about goals for this transition year. "I’ve been extremely pleased with the players – we have some very good players.
"I think the big thing is that it’s about playing hard and playing together and when you work hard you set good goals. No one is going to out-work us. No one is going to out-hustle us. We’re going to be a tough team and I know we’ll be in every game."
Coming off a successful season, the team looks focused on finding extended success against Division I competition and is not only "coachable" as described by Bonvicini, but also eager to learn from their experienced coaching staff.
"They know our potential and what we’re capable of and they’re really trying to harness everyone’s abilities," said senior guard Cassidy Muillo. "Practices have been fun, they’ve been challenging and I’m excited to see how we interact in the actual game tonight."
With a young team that boasts six active sophomores, hard work and a focus on growth will undoubtedly be central to the team. As a counter-balance to Bonvicini’s experience, assistant coaches Joy Hollingsworth and Kristen O’Neill – who are only a few years removed from college basketball themselves – are looking to connect with players and not only help them on the court, but off the court as women as well, according to O’Neill. O'Neill, who also brings WNBA experience to the table, also expects to learn as a coach from Bonvicini.
While the focus of today’s practice was the present – keying in on how to defend Northwest and refining their offensive sets – there is definitely a spirit of hope for the future, inspired by both the experience of the coaching staff and the team’s youth.
Consistent with her demeanor and the tone of her practice, Bonvicini has high-expectations for a program embarking upon a new venture.
"Three years, we’re going to be a ranked team – we’re going to be Top 25," said Bonvicini with an increased level of intensity. "I didn’t come here to be average – I came here to be great."
Seattle University's Path to Success Begins with an Experienced Coaching Staff