Phil Stern enters his 11th year as UMBCís head womenís basketball coach after leading the Retrievers to their most successful season ever at the Division I level during the 2010-11 campaign and reaching the finals of the America East Tournament a year ago.
Stern was named the 2011 America East Coach of the Year after guiding the Retrievers, who were picked to finish fifth in the America East preseason poll, to their first-ever America East regular-season title and a berth in the Womenís National Invitation Tournament. UMBC went 20-12, matching the school record with 20 wins Ė the most in the programís 25-year Division I era Ė and its 13-3 mark in league play was its best in eight seasons in the conference.
After starting the season 1-5, Sternís squad finished strong, going 19-7 over the last 26 games and winning the final six America East contests en route to the regular-season crown. The Retrievers consistently received votes in the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25 poll over the last six weeks of the season.
UMBC earned the top seed in the America East Championship and defeated No. 8 Stony Brook before falling to eventual champion
Stern was rewarded two months later with a new six-year contract that runs through the 2016-17 season.
The WNIT was not the first time that Stern has led the Retrievers to the postseason. In 2007, UMBC became the first team in America East Conference history to defeat the top three teams in the league standings en route to winning the league championship. The Retrievers knocked off No. 2 Stony Brook in the quarterfinals before defeating No. 3 Vermont in the semifinals and finally stunning top-seeded and defending champion Hartford in the championship to bring home the programís first-ever conference title.
UMBC advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time and drew top-seeded
Stern earned both his 100th win at UMBC and his 200th career victory in 15 seasons as head coach during the 2010-11 season. He is just the second head coach in UMBC womenís basketball history to reach the century mark, while he joins
Stern oversaw one of the top defensive teams in the nation in 2010-11. UMBC ranked 16th in the NCAA in field goal percentage defense, holding opponents to a .352 clip, and ranked 33rd in scoring defense, allowing just 56.0 points per game Ė the second-best mark in school history.
Sternís revitalization of the UMBC program began when he took over the team in August 2002, inheriting a senior-laden squad. After failing to make the eight-team Northeast Conference Tournament the previous season, the Retrievers followed Sternís lead to their first-ever league title game. After starting the 2002-03 campaign just 3-9 while adjusting to Sternís Princeton-style offense, UMBC finished strong, posting an 11-7 mark over the final 18 games.
The Retrievers also finished that season as one of the top defensive and ball-handling teams in the country, ranking third in turnovers per game (12.1) and 10th in scoring defense (55.2 ppg allowed) in the NCAAís final statistics. Both marks were enormous leaps from just a year earlier.
But UMBC made the jump to the America East Conference in 2003-04 and sustained several years of growing pains while adapting to the much-stronger league which ranked 10 spots ahead of the NEC in the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) poll. The extremely young Retrievers Ė who had lost all five starters, including two 1,000-point scorers, from the previous yearís NEC runner-up team Ė combined to win 12 games from 2003-05.
Despite the struggles, Stern had planted the seeds for the growth of the program into the new league, as his freshman class from 2003-04 averaged one-third of the teamís scoring, and the Retrievers were led on the boards by a rookie. Despite the record, UMBC ranked 21st in the nation in 3-point field goals made per game (6.9) and set single-game school records for field goal percentage (.674), 3-pointers (14) and 3-point percentage (.636).
During the 2004-05 campaign, Stern developed Matea Pender into one of the best shooters in the nation from outside the arc, as she finished the season ranked third in the country in 3-point field goal percentage.
And a year later, Stern finally began to reap the benefits of his teamís development, as UMBC tallied 15 wins in 2005-06 and secured its first winning season in 12 years. The Retrievers finished fifth in the conference standings, shocking league foes who had predicted UMBC to finish last in the preseason poll. The success came while the America East was ranked 11th in the RPI poll.
The 2005-06 team set school records for 3-point field goal percentage and assists in a season. Since his arrival, Sternís squads have been some of the top shooting teams in UMBC history, as the top seven marks for 3-pointers in a season were set during his tenure, including a school- and America East Conference-record 223 in 2007-08. In addition, three of his eight teams have held opponents under 60.0 points per game.
In 2008-09, Stern dropped the Princeton-style offense, which he had run in each of his first six seasons at UMBC, in favor of a more up-tempo system. The Retrievers, who featured one of the youngest rosters in the country with 13 underclassmen and no seniors, scored more than 2,000 points for just the second time in school history, and Carlee Cassidy became the first player in nearly a decade to lead the America East in scoring in back-to-back seasons.
Prior to joining UMBC, Stern served as head coach at USC Aiken in
The following year, Sternís team successfully defended its title while winning the Peach Belt Conference regular season and earning an NCAA Division II Tournament berth. Over his final two years at USC Aiken, Sternís teams went a combined 59-25.
Stern was named Peach Belt Conference Coach of the Year twice (2000, 2002), as well as WBCA District-III Coach of the Year in 2002.
It was also at USC Aiken where Stern really started to run the Princeton-style offense, a system of play he has mastered and one that only a handful of programs attempt to run. Predicated on backdoor cuts and tempo control, the
Sternís collegiate head coaching career began at
Stern began his coaching career at
Maybe even more impressive than Sternís coaching success is his teamís dedication in the classroom and the community. The Retrievers posted the third-highest grade-point average (3.578) in the nation among NCAA Division I womenís basketball teams during the 2009-10 academic year. That season, all 11 team members were recognized on the America East Honor Roll for earning a GPA of 3.0 or better during the spring semester, with seven student-athletes garnering Commissionerís Honor Roll status for earning at least a 3.5. The Retrievers repeated in the WBCA Academic Top 25 in 2011, ranking 20th in all of Division I. In addition, senior Michelle Kurowski earned a number of academic honors, including America East Womenís Basketball Scholar-Athlete of the Year and Capitol One Academic All-District First Team, while Erin Voss, a four-year team member, was the salutatorian of UMBCís Class of 2007 and recently graduated from University of Wisconsin medical school.
The academic success of Sternís squads began before UMBC, as his USC Aiken team excelled in the classroom, as well, ranking 14th in the Womenís Basketball Coaches Association Academic Top 25 for Division II with a 3.429 GPA during the 2000-01 season.
In the community, Sternís program is one of the most active in the entire athletic department. In addition to making school visits, hosting clinics and mentoring at local elementary and middle schools, the womenís basketball team, along with UMBCís community outreach program, has welcomed an average of 1,200 elementary and middle school students to UMBC to tour the campus and watch the Retrievers play in their annual Midday Madness game in each of the last seven seasons.
A native of