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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Emily Cline- Knox Women's First Year

I know going to the “System” involves some risks for any coach. But after seeing the success the Grinnell men had with the “System,” I wondered why no women’s team in the Midwest Conference tried going to the “System.”

Last year watching Knox’s women play, I thought some of their players would be outstanding with the “System.” Having watched the Knox women while former player, Andie Allison played for them- I have always been impressed with how hard the Knox women play and the level of enthusiasm they have.

Last spring when Coach Cline told me that she thought she was going to go to the “System”, I knew it would not be an easy transition but I was very excited because I was convinced it was a very good decision for her program. It took courage for her to go to this style.

The three things I have noticed as they have worked to develop their version of the “System”:
1-     Her players are the most enthusiastic team I have seen- I filmed their bench to show my players.
2-     They have improved so much since the beginning of the year- both offensively and defensively- it will be exciting to watch how they continue to improve.
3-     And lastly- I am intrigued to see where the program can go over the next couple years, if it results in better recruiting classes.

Over the next couple days, I hope to have some Q/A’s with some of the players describing their first year experiences. This Q/A is with Coach Emily Cline.

Explain your connection with Sewanee when you first became familiar with "The System."
When I was an assistant at Sewanee our men's basketball assistant had played at Grinnell. He would talk about the System and show me film of System games and highlights. I was definitely intrigued. He loved talking about the System so much I couldn't help but keep that thought in the back of mind. Also, the women's head coach and I talked about installing it at Sewanee someday because Sewanee is very similar academically to Grinnell and we thought it might be a good option for us. However, I took another job before the Sewanee Women ever installed it.

Did your coach try to talk you into it or out of it?
Coach McCarthy the women's coach at Sewanee is my mentor and he probably knows me as well as anyone so when I told him we were going to the System this year he laughed. He didn't think I would be able to enjoy coaching the System for a number of reasons. He gently told me all the cons of the System and how my personality and the System might not be a good mix. However, he tried to remain neutral and answered my many questions. So I don't think it is fair to say he tried to talk me out of it but rather he tried to educate me on what to expect.

I know you have given going to this style a lot of thought over the last 2-3 years. Do you remember when you decided you were going to go with it?
System is definitely something I have had in the back of my mind ever since I coached at Sewanee. Honestly, I didn't know if I ever would have the courage to do it or the number of players I would need to do it. Sewanee did it for a season two years ago and I heard how much fun they had doing it and watching Galesburg High School play System and that finally convinced me to take the plunge. The decision became final last spring when I saw how my numbers were going to be with my team this year. Also, I thought several of my key players would be great System players. It was a huge gamble for the program and me but my AD (Chad Eisele) was very supportive so I thought why not?

How did your players first react to it when you told them your plans?
Interestingly, the players that I thought would be excited about the opportunity for more playing time were skeptical. Also, the players that I thought would be the best fit for the System were skeptical, as well. The kids that I thought would be totally against the switch were the most open to the change. So the reaction was guarded excitement by some and others were not as excited about the decision.

What were your worst fears?
My worst fears did not involve my players. I knew my players would play hard no matter what and give their all. I was most worried about my ability to coach System because it is counter in a lot of ways to conventional basketball. Also, System gets so much hype about the offensive side of it and I see myself as a defensive coach so I knew I would be way outside my comfort zone. Of course my worst fears like everyone is the fear of failure. I soon realized that even if we failed in the win-loss column my players were playing their heart's out and what more could I ask as a coach. Also, I knew if I took the risk and even if I failed I could look at things and say at least I tried. I can hold my head up and say I attempted something most coaches don't.

From an outsider looking in, your players are so enthusiastic. Could you have predicted their response?
We certainly have had some bumps in the road but throughout it my players have been troopers. They have taken everything in stride. However, I didn't anticipate how excited they would be. I have seen more excitement with this team than I have ever seen in a team. The day we played Carroll and my kids were jumping up and down and having so much fun made all the struggle worthwhile.

You had some tough times before Christmas. What allowed you to stay the course?
The main thing was my players wanted to stay the course. They didn't want to play any other way. I had a meeting with my seniors in December and they said this is what we want to do so that was enough for me to stay the course. Also, Coach Massey at Galesburg High School was a huge support during the hard times. He even came and spoke to my team and that really helped things. However, Bob Belf was in constant contact with me and he has fielded my millions of questions and concerns. Coach Belf also kept telling me how much better we were getting and he was so encouraging every time I talked to him. I bothered Coach Belf so much I felt like had to stay with it or I would be letting him down. I definitely couldn't have made it through this transition without Coach Massey or Coach Belf's guidance, wisdom and encouragement.

You talked to me about visiting with Coach Porter. What are some things that you picked up from him?
I spent an afternoon with Coach Porter this summer. Also, I attended a practice in October at Olivet to see how System practices worked. Coach Porter and I also had a lot of e-mail correspondence over the fall. After Christmas, I was recruiting in the Chicago area and I ran into Coach Porter. I had never been so glad to run into someone for a long time. Coach Porter and I talked for a long time and he invited me to watch practice that night. It was a huge relief. I knew what we were doing offensively was not working so Coach Porter patiently explained it to me and even changed practice slightly to do some drills that he hadn't planned on, for my benefit. I thinking running into Coach Porter was a turning point for me because Coach Porter was able to breakdown his offense for me so I could be confident enough to teach it to my team. Since then we have been scoring a lot more points and my team has enjoyed it even more.

This past weekend you score 98 points and then come back with 114 points- how unbelievable was that?
Well considering we averaged 56 points a game last year, I think it is a great accomplishment. However, I knew this year's team had the tools to score a lot of points but it just took them awhile to figure that out. I knew they could do it but I think they weren't a 100% sure they could do it. When we scored 94 at Dominican I knew things were on the right track.
What is the best part of doing the System and the worst part?
The best part of the System is the kids are having fun and love playing this way. Also, the fact that everyone can have a role is a lot of fun. The excitement that the kids have win or lose make it worthwhile. The worst part is there are several games I would like to be able to play over again now that we are getting better and figuring things out.
Describe the lockeroom after your 114-100 win. Best post game lockeroom you have
My kids were very excited and I think a little relieved. So it was a lot of fun. I think getting a sweep was even more important than scoring 114.

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