Over the past 10 years, head women's basketball coach Phil Stern has developed a reputation for revitalizing struggling programs, while at the same time reaping the benefits of carrying teams to the top of their respective conferences. With the Retrievers heading into their fourth year in the Mid-Major America East Conference and Stern entering his fifth year at the helm, Stern has brought the UMBC program into a position ready to challenge for the league title.
Sternís foundation found its base last year during the 2005-06 season as the Retrievers started to grow into a league contender. UMBC tallied 15 wins, seven more than any other season in the America East Conference. In addition, UMBC secured its first winning season since the 1993-94 campaign, recorded the most regular season wins since 1990-91 and tied for the second most wins in UMBCís Division-I history.
During the course of conference play, UMBC rattled off a six-game win streak, shocking league foes that had predicted the Retrievers to finish last in the preseason poll. UMBCís streak was the longest since winning 10 consecutive games in 1993-94, and its seven America East wins propelled the Retrievers to a fifth place league finish. UMBCís and Sternís success came while the America East Conference was ranked 11th in the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) poll.
Sternís revitalization began when he took over the UMBC program in August 2002, inheriting a heavily senior dominated black and gold squad. UMBC, which failed to make the eight-team Northeast Conference tourney the previous season, followed Sternís lead as he took the Retrievers to their first ever conference championship title game. Stern's squad, which took some time to learn his system of play but finished 11-7 over the final 18 games during the 2002-03 campaign, ended the year ranked as one of the top defensive and ball handling teams in the country. The Retrievers in the NCAA final statistics ranked third in turnovers per game (12.1) compared to 48th in 2001-02, and ranked 10th overall in scoring defense (55.2 ppg allowed), as opposed to 32nd the previous year.
Already proven to show his ability to skyrocket a struggling program, Stern's second season showed the growing pains of having a program revert to a young squad as the Retrievers lost all five starters from his inaugural season, including two 1,000-point scorers and the school's all-time assists leader. In addition, UMBC made a switch to the America East Conference, jumping 10 spots in the conference RPI rankings.
Despite finishing 4-24 on the year in 2003-04, Stern planted the seeds for the growth of the program into the new league as his incoming freshman class averaged a third of the Retrievers' total scoring and was led on the boards by a rookie. Stern's squad finished the year ranking second in the nation in fouls per game at 13.3 and 21st in three-point field goals made per game at 6.9. UMBC also set school records for single-game highest field goal percentage (67.4), most three-point field goals in a game (14) and highest three-point percentage in a game (63.6).
During the 2004-05 season, Stern continued to lead the rise of the Retrieversí program, doubling the win total from the previous year and setting the stage for UMBCís success the next season. Stern, whose teams are known for their three-point shooting ability, developed Matea Pender into one of the best shooters outside the arc in the nation, as she finished the 2004-05 season ranked third in the country in three-point field goal percentage.
While not accustomed to many sub-.500 seasons (four in his 10 year career), Stern has proven in the past to respond well to a struggling season. In his previous position as the head coach USC Aiken (1998-2002), Stern began his initial year with a 5-22 record, but by his third year he developed the Lady Pacers into a 22-7 squad and the Peach Belt Conference North Division Champs.
The following season (2001-02) Stern's team successfully defended its Peach Belt Conference North Division Title while winning the Peach Belt Conference regular season title and earning an NCAA Division-II Tournament appearance. Over his final two years at USC Aiken, Stern went a combined 59-25. He earned WBCA District-III Coach of the Year (2001-02), awarded two Peach Belt Conference Coach of the Year accolades (1999-00, 2001-02) and he was named Women's Division-II Bulletin Coach of the Month in December 1999.
It was also at USC Aiken where Stern really started to run the Princeton Style offense, a style of play he has mastered and that only a handful of programs attempt to run. The style of play, predicated on backdoor cuts and tempo control, has been effective in frustrating opponents, as evidence of his success. To run the system, Stern needs to find the right personnel and targets players who are students of the game, meaning they are able to read the defense, make precise passes and shoot and handle the ball at any position on the court.
Stern's collegiate head coaching career began at
Stern began his coach career at
Maybe even more impressive than his success coaching is his team's abilities in the classroom. During Stern's tenure, the Retriever women's basketball team has been one of the athletic department leaders in the classroom and in the conference. Sternís squad last season earned the highest team cumulative grade point average (GPA) in the conference with a 3.25 GPA. Sternís program has carried a 3.0 or better in each of his seasons at UMBC.
In addition, Sternís program is very active in the community and around campus. The womenís basketball team won the 2005-06 Retriever Cup, which awards points based on GPA, community outreach, athletes supporting athletes and Sunday lectures. The UMBC womenís basketball team hosted a mid-day madness affair, welcoming more than 600 area students to campus; a number of student-athletes work in the community outreach programís mentoring students program; and four student-athletes traveled to New Orleans to work for Habitat for Humanity, earning them recognition on the ďNCAA On CampusĒ show featured on Fox Sportsnet.
The academic success of Stern's programs stems from before UMBC, as his USC Aiken team excelled in the classroom as well, ranking 14th with a 3.429 GPA in the Women's Basketball Coaches Association Academic Top-25 for Division-II during the 2000-01 season. In addition, the Lady Pacers were the only team in the South Atlantic Region ranked in the Academic Top-25.
Stern is a native of
Birthdate: August 4, 1968
2002-03: Northeast Conference Championship Runners-up
2001-02: WBCA District III Coach of the Year
2001-02: Peach Belt Conference Coach of the Year
2001-02: NCAA Division II Tournament Participant
2001-02: Regular Season Peach Belt Conference Champions
2001-02: Peach Belt Conference North Division Title
2000-01: Peach Belt Conference North Division Title
1999-00: Peach Belt Conference Coach of the Year
Dec. 1999: Womenís Division II Bulletin Coach of the Month
2005-06 15-13 (.536)
2004-05 8-20 (.286)
2003-04: 4-24 (.143)
2002-03: 14-16 (.467)
Total: 41-73 (.360)
2001-02: 22-6 (.785)
Peach Belt Regular Season Conference Champions
Peach Belt Conference North Division Champions
2000-01: 22-7 (.759)
Peach Belt Conference North Division Champions
1999-00: 15-12 (.556)
1998-99: 5-22 (.185)
Total: 64-47 (.577)
1997-98: 14-13 (.519)
1996-97: 16-12 (.571)
Total: 30-25 (.545)
Career Total: 135-145 (.482)