DURHAM, N.H. – Kelsey Hogan, the UNH women’s basketball head coach, is the youngest coach in women’s college basketball. She inherited a team that had gone a combined 16-43 the last two seasons. She replaced Maureen Magarity, who had guided the Wildcats for 10 seasons and became the second-winningest coach in school history.
Hogan also took control of a team with only one returning senior – Amanda Torres. The rest of the team is comprised mostly of sophomores, with a few first-year and junior athletes sprinkled throughout the roster. On top of it all, the coronavirus (COVID-19) threw the world and UNH into uncertain waters.
Despite all the challenges that 2020 brought on Hogan, the UNH women’s basketball program is surrounded by optimism. The young team and their even younger head coach have shown an unwavering tenacity for the first two-thirds of the 2020-21 season. UNH is currently fifth in the America East and hold a conference record of 4-6. This is respectable for a team that came into the year labeled as a rebuilding situation. If you take a deeper dive into that record and it only looks more impressive.
The season didn’t get off to a great start when they played Boston College and Bryant and were defeated in both games. They went on to split the opening conference series with NJIT – the newest addition to the conference. It looked as if Hogan’s team might fall into a tailspin when they subsequently lost to UMass and then dropped both games to Hartford.
Sitting at 1-6 overall and 1-3 in the America East, UNH was skidding. Slow starts to games and second halves routinely plagued Hogan’s young team. The Wildcats were volleying between crushing blowouts to gut-wrenchingly close losses. Hogan was open about how the team’s youth held them back at times. She continued to call on her team to improve how they start games.
“It’s where our youth shows. We need to start on a high note. Instead of feeling it out we’re able to get after it,” said Hogan after the loss to NJIT.
UNH only outscored an opponent in the first quarter once in its first seven games. They were outscored in the third quarter five times. The problems with the team were apparent. Despite the consistent effort and the constant production of veteran players like Torres and junior forward Ivy Gogolin, the ‘Cats young players were outmatched.
With all of their issues, the Wildcats headed into the new year’s first series against the University of Maine. It would have been hard to find an opponent you’d want to play less than the UMaine Black Bears if you were Hogan. The Black Bears headed to Durham with a 5-0 record on the season and were unbeaten in their last 15 games. The Black Bears hadn’t lost to UNH in their previous nine meetings. The odds were stacked against the young Wildcats.
What could have been a finishing blow to UNH turned out to be a spark. In the first game of the series, UNH pulled off a miraculous upset and edged out the America East favorites 58-57. Once again, Torres was a presence for the Wildcats and hit two free throws in the final seconds to win the game. Perhaps more importantly, the defensive play that sealed the win for UNH on UMaine’s final inbound was made by first-year center Paige Cote. In addition, sophomore guards Brooke Kane and Helena Delaruelle had massive contributions. The win was exactly the right combination of veteran leadership and the emergence of the team’s youth.
UNH went on to split their sets with UMaine, Binghamton and Stony Brook. Continued excellence from Torres and Gogolin now paired with an ever more confident Delaruelle and Kane have helped Hogan’s team pull out from what looked like a nosedive of a season. UNH has eight games left and look to be playing their best basketball of the season.
Coach Hogan has said that her competitive nature makes her want to win every game and that obviously is her team’s mission every time they take the floor. What perhaps makes her such an excellent fit for this squad is her understanding of the need to nurture her young team’s talent. Hogan said her biggest goal in the last third of the season is to continue challenging her young players to grow.
“Of course, all of us want to win games but with the young ladies that I have on my team this year its continuous growth,” Hogan said. “Every single game, every series I want to compete. We talk about fight and for me it’s having them bought in. Challenging them every single day. Just to make sure that we are growing individually but especially as a collective unit and we’re getting better every single day. Our mentality doesn’t change. Our mentality this whole year, and what needs to the rest of the season, is to continue to improve. We have to continue to improve. Every single game. Every single series.”
Hogan’s Wildcats certainly have improved this season; if the trend continues, they should show continued improvement. There is plenty to build on in Durham this year and UNH appears to have found the coach for the job. What form the rest of the season takes is yet to be seen, but the future is bright for Kelsey Hogan and UNH.
Photo courtesy of Michelle Bronner