Monday, November 25, 2013

Green Bay's Run Even Longer Than Marist Women's

When the Siena women's basketball team participated in this past weekend's T.D. Bank Classic Tournament in Vermont, we got a close-up look at Marist of the mid-west.

That would be Green Bay, which is currently ranked the No. 2 mid-major level women's program (23 conferences are considered) nationally.

And, considering what Green Bay has accomplished over the years it's probably more proper to call Marist the "Green Bay of the east."

We thought Marist's string of 10 consecutive league championships was impressive. And, it certainly is.

The Phoenix (one of just two Division I programs with that nickname, the other is Elon) have won the Horizon League championship for the past 15 years ... heck, that streak is 50 percent longer than Marist's.

Over the past 15 years the program has been to the NCAA tournament 12 times and to the WNIT three times. It has won four NCAA tournament games in the past four seasons, including a run to the Sweet 16 round in the 2010-11 season when, at one point, it was ranked as high as No. 9 nationally.

The primary architect is head coach Kevin Borseth, but he hasn't been there for the duration and therein lies a very nice story.

After nine seasons and a 216-62 record (including an amazing 125-13 in league lay), Borseth moved on to coach at Michigan.

His successor, Matt Bollant, had a 148-19 overall record and an 85-5 mark in league play.

When Bollant moved on to take over at Illinois, Green Bay's athletic director called Borseth, at Michigan, to inquire about hiring one of his assistants.

The athletic director, Ken Bothof, had also been hearing that Borseth wasn't entirely happy at the college game's top level and asked if Borseth might have any interest in returning.

Borseth's response was that any continuation of that conversation might be more proper if Bothof first called Borseth's boss at Michigan.

Bothof did, got permission to talk to his former coach and Borseth was more than happy to return, citing the demands on his time at the high-major level was affecting the quality of his family life (he has five children).

It wasn't unexpected though. Borseth, in stories about his decision, said he noticed Michigan's golf course when being courted by that program. When he asked about playing there, he was told that his new job would ensure he wouldn't have the time to ever get on the course.

Borseth came back last year to direct Green Bay to yet another perfect league season (16-0), a 29-3 overall record and another NCAA berth.

This year Green Bay, with just a single starter returning from a year ago, is off to a 4-1 start (the only loss at St. Bonaventure, very good Atlantic 10 Conference team). The Phoenix captured Vermont's tournament with relative ease, beating Siena by 11 in the opening round and, then, earning a 17-point margin of victory over the host team in the championship contest.

It was enlightening to discover that there was a mid-major level program out there that has had a string of successes even longer than Marist's.

And, rewarding to meet a head coach in Kevin Borseth who recognized that the grass isn't necessarily greener at the high major level of college basketball, that there's nothing wrong with life at the mid-major level.

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