Tag: Dartmouth

Like Father, Like Son: Scott Faucher follows his dad’s coaching path with gusto

By Mike Whaley

It’s been an exceptionally frantic winter for Scott Faucher, the head coach of the Assumption University men’s basketball team. As usual, he’s working his tush off pushing the Greyhounds to compete to the best of their ability in the always rigorous Northeast-10 Conference. As of Tuesday, they were 9-8 in the NE-10 (tied for sixth with Pace) and 13-10 overall.

As if the winter wasn’t hectic enough, Scott’s wife Lindsay gave birth to twins (Luke and Jenny) as the season was getting ready to kick off two and a half months ago. “We couldn’t have timed it worse,” he laughed. “They were born right during the first tournament of the season.”

Faucher is in his 10th year overall as a second-generation college basketball coach. This is his fourth season as the head coach at Assumption with a stop before that at Nichols College as a head coach in 2018-19. He got his start as an assistant at St. Michael’s College in 2013-14 before moving on to Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, for four years. A native of Lebanon and a former player at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts, he is the youngest son of Dave Faucher, who coached the Dartmouth College men for 13 seasons.

Scott is 12 and 13 years younger than his two older brothers, Joey and Mike. “When I was growing up, obviously I spent a lot of time in the Lebanon High School gym watching my brothers play at Lebanon,” he said. “I had those guys as mentors basically. I watched their every move and fell in love with the game of basketball.”

“All those guys, my brothers and my dad, they kind of shaped my basketball journey. I had some strong influences in my life,” Scott said.

Dave Faucher was the head men’s basketball coach at Dartmouth College from 1991 to 2004. [photo courtesy of Dartmouth College Athletic]

Dave recalls ever since Scott was born he went to his brothers’ games and also the Dartmouth games. “So when he was one year old, he probably went to more basketball games than any kid in America at that point,” Dave said with a chuckle. A native of Somersworth, Dave graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 1972 where he got his first basketball job as an assistant coach under the late Gerry Friel. He had several high school coaching stints (Newmarket, Sanborn) after two years at UNH before he made his way to the Upper Valley in the early 1980s. He joined the Dartmouth program under Paul Cormier in 1984, eventually becoming the head coach in 1991.

When Scott was four, five and then six years of age, it was every day in the gym. “There was no babysitter for me or anything like that,” he recalled. “I’d get out of school growing up and go right to the gym in Lebanon or go to Dartmouth.”

Dave said that when they were younger, his older boys were ball boys for Dartmouth, where he was the head coach from 1991 to 2004. “Then Scott became a ball boy,” he said. “He was the most serious ball boy I’ve ever seen. He used to be in charge of three other kids. They knew who had to get what water bottles and who would sweep the floor and who’d be down the other end and who would collect the basketballs. He took it so seriously.”

Scott Faucher is pictured in the 1990s when he was a ball boy for the Dartmouth College men’s basketball team. [Courtesy photo]

After Dartmouth games, Dave would shut the gym down, and let Scott and his little friends play basketball on the main court. “It was 2 v 2 or 3 v 3 and all that stuff, just playing around,” Dave remembered. “He was around the game his whole life.”

When his older brothers played basketball at Middlebury College in Vermont, Scott made the trip over with his parents to be a ball boy and spend a lot of time in the gym. It left an impression. “I just watched how those guys worked every day,” Scott said. “They obviously loved the game and had a passion for it that I was able to witness at a young age. Now that I’ve grown up, I still have it to this day.”

Scott also went to the Carter Community Building in Lebanon to watch local players and the effort they put in to improve their game. “I would just go and sit and watch those guys work,” he said.

Scott gives his dad a lot of credit with how he has evolved as a coach, and certainly being around the Dartmouth program played an influential role. “I was fortunate at a young age to be thrown into that type of college environment,” he said. “The way I looked at it growing up, I had my family, but I also had the Dartmouth basketball family. There were 15 players in the locker room to look up to as players for the Big Green.

“It was a similar mentality just enjoying being around the gym,” Scott said. “I would go in and rebound for all those college players. I enjoyed it beyond the basketball team environment, and enjoyed the team relationships that come through basketball. I think that’s why early on I wanted to become a college coach whenever my time was done playing basketball.”

Scott Faucher, left, is pictured with his dad, Dave, and his brothers, Joe and Mike. [Courtesy photo]

Scott agrees that his dad helped to shape his coaching career. “I really look up to him as a basketball coach,” he said. “He’s very smart, especially when it comes to Xs and Os. It goes back to a lot of late nights sitting around the dining room table and moving around salt and pepper shakers and doing Xs and Os. He would talk you through the game. Him and I still talk pretty much every day about things. It certainly helped change my perspective on the game.”

Scott believes he gets a lot of his passion and energy coaching basketball from his dad. “I think there is a true joy that we all have,” he said. “I think there’s a reason he coached for much of his career and there’s a reason that I coached – that passion for basketball. That passion for being part of a team and trying to get the most out of your players. It’s way more than just basketball and the Xs and the Os. It’s more about enjoying it every day, enjoying the game.”

Scott pauses for a second, adding: “In watching him coach, he coached with a tremendous amount of energy and passion. I think I have that to an extent as well. That’s where it starts.”

What does Dave think Scott learned from him? “He probably learned what not to do,” his dad said with a laugh. “To be honest, we’re different. I’m a little more emotional, a little more volatile. He has the calm gene, which I wish I would have had. But he definitely has the knowledge gene in dissecting things and seeing how defenses play certain things and what to adjust. I have that as well. I don’t know if it’s a gene or not. There’s something about it. Some people don’t have it and others have it. He sees the game in slow motion. He sees all kinds of people and what’s going on. If nothing else, he’s much calmer; probably smarter. He’s excellent with people and he’s a relationship guy. That’s what he is.”

As Scott moved along the coaching ranks from his first two assistant coaching stints to his first head coaching job at Nichols College in Dudley, Massachusetts, Dave said you could see that “he had the acumen, the calm, the way he was with people. You knew he kind of had the ‘it’ factor.”

Dave Faucher was a men’s basketball coach at Dartmouth College for 20 years, the last 13 as the head coach. [photo courtesy of Dartmouth College Athletics]

Dave admits it’s hard for him as a father to follow his son’s games. “I’m more nervous watching his games than I was coaching my own games,” he said. “I do enjoy the evaluation process, watching (film) after and then talking to him the next day. I literally only say anything if I’m asked the question. I don’t give my opinions. We have a great relationship and we communicate regularly.”

Which Scott loves. “I call him almost everyday on my commute to work,” he said. “We talk about life, family and obviously a lot of basketball. I definitely use him as a sounding board. We mostly just bounce ideas off of each other and talk through a variety of things. Sometimes it’s in regards to team dynamics, Xs and Os, or recruiting. He watches every game so we usually talk about recent games and upcoming opponents. He will raise questions that challenge (in a good way) what I am coaching to my team. It helps me think deeper into the ‘why’ behind all things that I coach/emphasize with my team.”

After a solid four-year career playing at Wheaton, Scott was ready to become a college coach. He already had some experience running the Longhorn AAU Basketball Club in the Upper Valley, which is still in existence.

Scott Faucher, right, is pictured with his dad, Dave Faucher. [Courtesy photo]

When Scott applied for coaching jobs, one thing he did was reach out to people he knew. One person that he contacted was Josh Meyer, the new head coach at St. Michael’s College in Winooski, Vermont, an NE-10 school. Scott knew Meyer from when his family spent a year in Hanover. “He was a gym rat himself when he was in high school,” Scott recalled. “When he moved to Hanover that one year, he spent every day around the Dartmouth gym. I got to know him that one year. My brothers got to know him very well. He’s a little older than I am.”

As it turned out, Meyer had an opening on his staff. “That gave me my first opportunity,” Scott said. “I was the second assistant up there. I didn’t make any money learning a lot every single day and working my tail off and trying to continue to learn and grow as a coach.”

He did that for one year and then took an assistant’s job with D-III Bowdoin. “They’re in the same conference (NESCAC) that my brothers played in at Middlebury,” he said. Scott worked under veteran coach Tim Gilbride. “He’d been around a long time; a very smart basketball mind. I learned a lot from him.”

As he noted, small colleges have small staffs, so he was the only assistant. “It was him and I working together every single day,” Scott said. “You really get thrown into the fire of having to do everything.”

That meant multiple duties, like doing the scouting report, all the recruiting, all the travel booking; just anything you can think of that involves the college program. “I had to do it at the small-college level as an assistant,” he recalled. “You learn every single day. You take it all in. It was an awesome experience that prepared me to become a head coach.”

This is Scott Faucher’s fourth season as the head men’s basketball coach at Assumption University in Worcester, Mass. [photo courtesy of Assumption University Athletics]

Which he became in 2018 when he applied for and got the head job at Nichols, a D-III regional power. He stepped into a winning situation and was able to sustain what the previous staff had built there. “I was lucky at a young age to get that head coaching job,” he said. “I inherited a really, really talented Division III team that at that time were used to success.”

With Scott at the helm, the Bison were able to remain a top-flight team in New England. They went 28-3 and advanced to the NCAA Elite 8 for the first time in school history.

Then, bang, the Assumption job opened up. Scott really liked the NE-10. Being at St. Michael’s, he had gotten used to the league. Growing up in New Hampshire, he was very familiar with the local NE-10 teams at Southern New Hampshire University, Saint Anselm College and Franklin Pierce.

“I loved the balance of the scholarship level of basketball, but it’s still a small college, which is what I was used to coming from a Division III basketball,” he said. Scott also liked that Assumption had a rich basketball tradition going back to the 1950s.

Unfortunately when he got there, the Greyhounds had been in a tailspin with six losing seasons without double figure wins. “It was a little bit more of a rebuilding situation,” he said. Scott was up to the task. That first year (2019-20) Assumption went 14-12, a huge improvement.

But then Covid-19 hit and the end of the season was canceled (no national tournament). The following season was canceled. Period. That was tough for everybody. “We were really excited about what we were building and then Covid came along,” Scott said. “We didn’t know what’s going on.”

Spring workouts were canceled in 2020, and then the 2020-21 season was canceled. “It made recruiting difficult after that following year because you can’t get people on campus to visit,” Scott said.

Scott Faucher is the head men’s basketball coach at Assumption University in Worcester, Mass. [photo courtesy of Assumption University Athletics]

Scott found he had to approach things differently with players being granted a fifth year of eligibility. It affected the transfer portal. Coming into the 2021-22 season, he essentially had two new classes that hadn’t played with each other at all. “It was challenging to try and build chemistry at that time, and the lack of reps we had together.” Scott felt good about how his team competed and was happy with the season, which ended with a record of 12-13. The Greyhounds followed that up with a 14-14 mark last season.

Dave shakes his head because the basketball landscape is a far cry from what he was used to at Dartmouth. Sometimes he wishes Scott had chosen another profession like his brothers – one works in finance and the other in pharmaceutical sales. “It’s not an easy way to make a living,” he said. “He’s got twins now. It’s a stressful life. I didn’t sleep the night before (a game). I didn’t sleep the night after. He has his life in more perspective than I had.”

Dave pauses and then continues. “Then I talk to his brothers. Yeah, they’ve got their families. They’ve got their jobs. They go home from work. That’s it,” he said. “It’s not like that being a coach. You’re always working in a sense. It can be very stressful. There’s a part of me that wishes he was into something else. But if you have a passion for something, you have to follow it.”

When Scott was still in college and had helped to develop the Longhorn AAU Club, Dave remembers seeing him coach his first game at a facility in Plaistow, N.H. “The way he was with the kids, I said, ‘Oh boy, he’s pretty good for a young kid.’ Who knows, but it’s still a tough way to make a living.”

When Dave looks at college basketball today, he sees something out of control with the transfer portal and NIL (Name, Image and Likeness). “I have no desire to get involved with that type of thing. But I’m 75,” he said.

Recruiting is such a vital part of college athletics and the transfer portal has made it easier to transfer. Dave mentions that Scott’s best player last year, Isaiah Gaiter, transferred to D-I South Alabama for his senior year. He is leading that team in scoring. “You evaluate the kids and you think you see something special and what you see is right,” Dave said. “But now they’re gone. There’s so many things you can’t control. You have to recruit your own players every year and then be aware of the transfer portal.

In the wake of losing Gaiter, Dave mentioned that Scott recruited a pair of D-III players rather than go after D-I guys. “One is the leading scorer and the other played 40 minutes the other night and is probably his best defender,” Dave said. “That’s taking a chance. That’s believing in yourself. That’s also taking kids that are hungry to prove that they can play at the next level not (D-I) kids that think they are all that coming in. 

“It’s a different approach,” Dave added. “I’m really proud of him for taking that. At the end of the day you’ve got to take an approach that wins. Now next year is going to be a whole new dynamic. Is that what you really want to do? Every year is so different. Every year can change so drastically in the college basketball landscape.”

Scott has not forgotten his New Hampshire roots. He has made sure his roster has a few Granite State players. The current roster includes sophomore Jacob Gibbons (Exeter) and freshman Michael Pitman (Pembroke). Scott has also coached graduated Granite State players Evan Gray (Somersworth) and Cal Connelly (Rochester). Connelly is an assistant hoop coach at Roger Williams University.

Dave still keeps his hand in basketball. He’s an analyst for Dartmouth games on ESPN+. And he stays close to the Dartmouth program, going to functions, games and practices. “And I follow Scott’s games,” he said. “Between basically having a normal life.”

To prepare for a cable game, Dave will go to a Dartmouth practice, watch film and see the scouting report on the opponent, get the game plan and watch the actual practice. Then he’ll talk with the opposing coach. “We’ll see what they’re trying to do,” he said. “It keeps me in the game. It keeps my interest level up. I know all the Dartmouth players. It’s enjoyable.”

Then with Scott’s games he is watching those twice a week. “I look forward to the nights that there are no games,” he says with a laugh. “There’s no stress. It’s good.”

While Dave sometimes frets about his son’s vocation, Scott is all in. He loves what he does and he loves the conference he is doing it in. “It’s a really, really fun basketball conference,” he said. “Everybody’s good. There’s actually no nights off. No one’s better than anyone else to be honest. The teams that end up being at the top are a little more consistent night in and night out.”

Scott Faucher is the head men’s basketball coach at Assumption University in Worcester, Mass. [photo courtesy of Assumption University Athletics]

Just look at the standings. The Greyhounds are tied for sixth with Pace, one game out of fourth behind Southern Connecticut and Southern New Hampshire, and just a game ahead of Saint Anselm, lurking in eighth. “It changes fast right now,” Scott said. “If you look at the standings, the bulk of the teams kind of beat up on each other. That’s the way our league has always been.”

Of course, along with the coaching Scott has to juggle family life with Lindsay, who he met at Wheaton. They own a house in her home town of Cranston, Rhode Island, where she is an art teacher.  “One thing, it’s a hard balance,” he said. “My dad did a good job with that. Obviously he had three kids and he was a coach himself. I was able to see what that can look like by being able to balance your time appropriately.”

With twins, there’s not a lot of sleep going on for either parent. “Especially in the middle of the winter with our season,” Scott said. “There’s a lot of different challenges. I do the best I can with that.”

It comes down to priorities. “Be a great father, be a great basketball coach and be a great husband,” he said. “You have to limit some of the other things.”

Dartmouth men down UNH in interstate battle

HANOVER – Behind a career-high 28 points from Jayden Williams, the Dartmouth men led by as many as 23 points in the 2nd half and held on for a 76-64 victory over visiting New Hampshire on Wednesday night at Leede Arena.

Joining Williams in double figures for the Big Green was Ryan Cornish (14 points) and Jackson Munro (11). The Wildcats were paced by Ahmad Robinson’s double-double (11 points, 10 rebounds), while Naim Miller pumped in a team-high 15 points and Trey Woodyard added 12.

The meeting marked the first between the two Granite State squads since 2019. With the win, the Big Green improve to 2-5 on the year, while UNH falls to 6-4.

Check out the full photo gallery by Chris Laclair of Chris Clicks Photography…

Game ready! Banghart handles challenges at UNC, Princeton

By Mike Whaley

Although basketball has been a life-long passion for Courtney Banghart, she wasn’t always sure it would be her vocation.

Once she realized it could be, she grabbed on firmly with both hands. She has developed into one of the finest college basketball coaches in the nation.

The New Hampshire native is now in her fourth year resurrecting the scandal-plagued women’s team at the University of North Carolina. Banghart’s current UNC squad is 18-7 and ranked 19th in the two most recent national polls. Before UNC, she transformed Princeton University into a top Ivy League program. In 2015, after leading the Tigers to a 30-0 regular season, she was recognized as the Naismith National Coach of the Year. Between the two schools she has over 300 wins in 16 seasons.

But there was a time when Banghart felt soccer would be her sport in college and that her future was likely in the sciences or maybe as a school head.

Banghart grew up in rural Amherst, New Hampshire, a town of nearly 11,000 people located in the south central section of the state, somewhat between Manchester and Nashua. She attended Souhegan High School from 1992 to 1996 where she was one of the state’s most decorated three-sport athletes. She excelled in soccer, basketball and tennis, leading Souhegan teams to eight state championships in those three sports. Individually, she set the state record – that’s been since broken – for most career goals in soccer (147), eclipsed the 1,000-point mark in basketball, and in tennis captured a state singles title (1995) and two in doubles (1994, 1995).

University of North Carolina women’s basketball head coach Courtney Banghart confers with junior guard Deja Kelly. A native of New Hampshire, Banghart is in her fourth year at UNC. [Photo courtesy of UNC Athletic Communications]

Banghart said she was lucky she was born in a state where at the time it was OK to play three sports. “We really specialize early now at this stage,” she said. “If I had had to specialize that early, it probably would have been soccer. I was more talented, more decorated, obviously.”

She added, “Athletics has been my thing. It’s what I’ve been best at. It’s what I’ve enjoyed the most. My first word was ‘ball’ not ‘mom’ or ‘dad’. That’s just been my life.”

Banghart said that when she went to Dartmouth College in the Ivy League because her dad was pretty sure that sports were not going to be in her future. She was heavily recruited for soccer, receiving offers from schools like Boston College and Notre Dame. She chose Dartmouth who was coached by current Virginia coach, Steve Swanson. Her feeling was that if soccer was going to pay her way, then that was the path she needed to take. But before she entered the Hanover school, Swanson took the job at Stanford. That left Banghart with two choices – follow Swanson to Stanford or stay as a Dartmouth recruit.

Well, actually there were three choices. Basketball was still her favorite sport and, frankly, Banghart was looking for any excuse to play it. She called the basketball coach.

Banghart hammers home her love for basketball. Yes, she was good at multiple sports, and she was best at soccer, but basketball was her passion. “My dad would always say, I’d finish a soccer game and have on my shin guards and go out and shoot hoops for an hour,” she said. “It was like a made-for-TV movie. I just loved hoop. I watched it. I used to watch the Celtics every Friday night. I just loved it. I still do.”

Growing up, Banghart did not get the exposure in basketball that you need to gain the attention of college coaches. “I didn’t do the whole AAU thing,” she said. “My parents weren’t financially prepared to spend that much money, They didn’t see the value in that.”

New Hampshire native Courtney Banghart played basketball at Dartmouth College where she was a two-time All-Ivy League pick and led the Big Green to a pair of Ivy League championships. [Photo courtesy of Dartmouth College Athletics]

Serendipity came into play when Banghart decided to play college basketball. Then Dartmouth coach, Chris Wielgus, was actually familiar with her and knew she was a good player. She had seen Banghart play for Souhegan against Hanover High School in the 1996 Class I state final because at the time her son was dating one of the Hanover players. Banghart had a great game, scoring 30-plus points in a 60-57 win.

“She knew who I was because she watched me play in high school,” Banghart recalled. “It’s kind of weird and strange now in this day and age, but being from a small town, your exposure is different than being in a more urban environment.”

Banghart laughs about it now, but at the time she chose Dartmouth and soccer because her parents wanted her to go to an Ivy League school, and soccer was the ticket to help pay for that. “Even if Steve (Swanson) had stayed, I can guarantee I would have found myself over to the basketball team,” she said.

Banghart played four years for the Big Green, leading them to a pair of Ivy League titles and twice earning first-team All-Ivy honors. She owned the Ivy League record with 273 career 3-pointers until it was broken in 2019 by Harvard’s Katie Benzan (287). In 1999, she earned the Ed Seitz Award as the top 3-point specialist in the nation after connecting on a program-best 97 three-pointers.

It was during her first job at Episcopal High School, a boarding school, in Alexandria, Virginia, that Banghart realized that maybe sports could be a vocation. She was the school’s assistant athletic director and then girls’ AD while coaching tennis and basketball during a three-year stint.

Doing what she did at Episcopal was a grind. “I’m not afraid of the grind,” she said. “I’m wired that way. I also saw the income. It didn’t match the grind. I thought if I want to do this, I should probably do this at the college level.”

It still wasn’t necessarily coaching, but Banghart was definitely thinking about sports; maybe as an athletic director or something similar.

She applied to graduate schools, getting accepted at the Harvard School of Education. When she told her dad, he asked who was footing the bill. She went to Dartmouth instead because they paid for it. She got her master’s degree while working with the Dartmouth women’s basketball team as an assistant coach from 2003-07, which included a pair of Ivy League championships.

Courtney Banghart holds Dartmouth College’s record for career 3-pointers made with 273. [Photo courtesy of Dartmouth College Athletics]

Where Banghart is in her life as a coach may have come down to one week in 2007. She turned 29, defended her graduate thesis and was offered the head job at Princeton.

“I always say about (Princeton athletic director) Gary Walters, he saw it before I did,” Banghart said of that coaching break, one she did not expect. She recalls showing up for the interview with a single piece of paper. “Here, this is me,” she said. “I’m almost embarrassed about how I interviewed for that job. But he saw it in me before I did.”

So there it was. Banghart was 29 and a head coaching job was on the table. It wasn’t something she was necessarily seeking. “Honestly, it kind of happened more so than I had made a conscious decision that coaching was going to be my life,” she said. “Once I hit the ground running at Princeton, I found my thing, as they say.”

Without a doubt.

In her 12 years at Princeton, she led the team to a lengthy list of league and Princeton firsts and bests. They won seven Ivy League titles and made it to the NCAA tournament eight times. Before she arrived, the Tigers had never made the NCAA tournament, and only once in their previous eight seasons had they had a winning record.

“It’s all about people,” Banghart said. “The program I inherited, we play them twice every year in the Ivy League. At Dartmouth I played them eight times as a player and eight times as an assistant and went 16-0 against them. So I knew what I was getting myself into.”

There were good players in place when Banghart got there. Though they hadn’t had success, they could speak positively about the school and the new coach. “They really helped me to recruit the next group,” she said.

One thing Banghart found was that she was very good at recruiting. “There are two types of coaches in our line of work,” she said. “Those who can recruit and those who get fired. I knew that recruiting was going to be important. I really got lucky. I got a lot of talented kids those first few years and the rest took care of itself.”

Because she was good at recruiting, of course, didn’t mean it was easy. “I think in coaching because it’s a journey of people, you’re constantly making decisions,” Banghart said. “You’re talking about that from a recruiting space; everybody has strengths, weaknesses and holes. You kind of have to build your team where you connect the strengths and the holes are complementary. Maybe it’s just dumb luck that I’m good at it.”

New Hampshire native Courtney Banghart has been a women’s college head basketball coach since 2007, the last four years at the University of North Carolina. [Photo courtesy of UNC Athletic Communications]

But she feels she can actually pick up beyond scoring, rebounding and defending on people that she thinks are really talented. “That proved me well at Princeton because you’re splitting hairs a little bit,” Banghart said.

At North Carolina, of course, you’re trying to get All-Americans. “But it’s the same idea,” she said. “Who are the kids to be the ones to help you win a national championship? I don’t have a very good answer for that. My mom has asked me that many times. ‘How do you know so-and-so is going to be good?’ I watch closely. I do the whole circle of recruiting. I talk to everyone in their circle. I talk to them a lot. Then I trust my evaluation. When they get here, I coach the hell out of them.”

Banghart coached the hell out of her Princeton players for 12 years until she felt she was ready for a new challenge. “We were literally hammering everybody,” she said. “I think partly I was 39 or 40 and I thought there was one more challenge in me in this industry. It didn’t feel OK to me that I’d give this much of my life to women’s basketball and I’d spend all of it in the Ivy League. What’s the next challenge?”

At Princeton, she’d been spoiled. “Princeton has a world-wide brand,” she said. “You recruit nationally. It’s a beautiful campus. It’s a wonderful place to live.” Banghart had also started a family there with her wife, Michele DeJuliis.

She had all these “non-negotiables” trying to find the next place. “The list was very, very small,” Banghart said. “My decision kind of came to a place like Carolina, will it be available? Am I going to be able to get that job? Or am I going to try a totally different thing? I kind of made up my mind that I wasn’t going to be an Ivy League coach that much longer.”

What happened next, Banghart will never forget. “I actually stepped down on a Thursday night, very, very late,” she recalled. “I got a call from (North Carolina athletic director) Bubba Cunningham Friday morning. Everything moved very quickly there.”

Then it became easier. “Because I had wrapped my head around the fact that there was going to be another challenge, I think that allowed some of the really hard things that come with moving and relocating your family to become less hard,” she said. “I knew there was going to be something else.”

New Hampshire native Courtney Banghart has been a women’s college head basketball coach since 2007, the last four years at the University of North Carolina. [Photo courtesy of UNC Athletic Communications]

Something else that was, indeed, a huge challenge. Banghart was taking over a North Carolina program with a rich tradition that had soured. The Tar Heels had won the 1994 NCAA national championship and been to the Final Four in 2006 and 2007 under Hall of Fame coach Sylvia Hatchell. But the recent history with Hatchell had regrettably deteriorated. There had been three consecutive losing seasons and then an 18-15 record in 2018-19 in which Hatchell ended up resigning under a cloud highlighted by accusations of racially insensitive remarks and forcing players to play while injured. Hatchell resigned on April 19, 2019. Banghart was officially hired before the end of the month on April 30.

In her first year, without the benefit of a recruiting season, Banghart came in and guided the team to a 16-14 record. That included a season-ending eight-game losing streak in a year that was canceled on the eve of the national tournament due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Covid affected her second year, as well, reducing the schedule to 22 games. The Heels went 13-11 overall, losing in both the first round of the ACC and NCAA tournaments. 

“It was really, really hard,” said Banghart coaching in those first two years, especially the second Covid season. “I’m very positive by nature. Looking back it was really hard. There were plenty of days I would ask myself ‘how long am I going to do this? What value is this?’”

She added: “Because you left something that you built fully functioning and you had to rebuild something that wasn’t fully functioning and needed a lot of changes. That is hard because that is peoples’ lives that you’re impacting. Of course, the league is really strong. Everything in this business is really finicky. If you don’t get a great class your first year, how do you get one your second year? You’re kind of wearing that all the time. It has to go well and it has to go well immediately. That’s stressful and hard.”

Banghart recalls at some point sitting in her car in her driveway and having a heart to heart with herself. “I’ve got to stop wanting to end here,” she told herself. “This isn’t helping anything. I’ve got to stop. You either finish what you started or if you don’t like it, do something else. I was at that point where I didn’t know if I liked doing this.”

Then it hit her that she had to cease asking for it to be easier. “You knew this was going to be hard,” she recalled telling herself. “That’s actually why you left Princeton. You wanted a new challenge. So now you ask your players every day to embrace challenges, and you’re disappointed that this is such a challenge. Stop. I was telling myself to grow up and see what it actually looks like.”

Her mind-set got better. That first class had arrived, so there was a talent influx. Some of the people who were there before moved on. “The people situation started to clean out and clean up,” Banghart said. “That was very helpful.”

The worm turned last year. UNC went 25-7 overall, winning two NCAA Tournament games before falling to eventual national champion South Carolina by eight points in the Sweet 16. The Heels were ranked 17th in the final AP poll.

This year, led by Banghart’s first recruiting class – now juniors – consisting of Deja Kelly, Anya Poole, Alyssa Ustby and Kennedy Todd-Williams, the Tar Heels are again nationally ranked.  “For a small-town New Hampshire kid, I won’t get tired of recognizing how hard that is,” Banghart said of being nationally ranked. “It’s hard to win at any level. We started the ACC season 0-3, but we also played three really good teams. We either had a small lead or it was tied or so in the fourth quarter. Those were all possession games. In coaching if you hang on every result defining you, you’re going to miss out on the journey. I felt the same then as I do now, I have a really good team. We just have to continue to get better, stay the course and you have to get some lucky breaks to get to a Final Four. We’re building to that, that we have a legitimate opportunity to do that every year with the talent we’ve been able to amass.”

It’s been a journey with this particular squad. “This team has matured, “ Banghart said. “At the time, I wished it had matured a little bit earlier. It wasn’t the organic nature of this group. We sort of had to go through some vulnerabilities. So far we’re doing pretty good.”

After some dark days, North Carolina and Banghart find themselves in a better basketball place that still has plenty of upside. “It’s been the sport that I watched and loved,” she said. “It’s really worked out.”

Banghart laughs because she often refers to herself as the “most expensively educated coach in the country.” But she adds on a more serious note, “had I not been given that (Dartmouth) opportunity – my parents had to take on some significant loans – I would have played soccer. That would have been fine, too.”

Fine, but clearly not the same.

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