Just over a month after the women’s basketball team capped its most successful campaign in program history, head coach Marnie Dacko resigned. The void behind the bench only added to the woes for a team that graduated two of its most talented players and saw its aspirations for a first-ever Ivy League title dashed.
Little is certain of the 2002-03 season other than the team’s youth and energy. A two-month long search for a new head coach, spearheaded by assistant athletic director Bob Chaddock, produced a coach who is being noted by her players as possessing those same characteristics.
Dayna Smith, most recently an assistant under Kelly Greenberg at Penn, was announced as the Red’s new head coach on June 19.
“This is a first class program, and I am very honored to be named head coach,” Smith said.
Candidates from Dartmouth and Army were reportedly among others interviewed for the position.
Smith heard about the vacancy from a colleague at Penn and subsequently contacted men’s basketball head coach Steve Donahue, also a former assistant for the Quakers.
“I’m very excited to be given the opportunity to be at such a prestigious school,” Smith said. “Cornell is known in the Ivy League for their work ethic and that is something I hope to continue.”
Basketball players who remained on the East Hill during the summer were invited to evaluate interviewees.
“She was genuinely excited for the job, and it was clear she really wanted it. She is the kind of person I wanted to play for,” sophomore Sarah Lee said.
Smith drew similar accolades from other members of the team. Last season’s tri-captain, junior Karen Force, an Ivy League Honorable Mention, had high praise for Smith.
“Her personality is very lively. She is young and knows the college scene very well. She has been coaching since she graduated,” she said.
After a summer of recruiting, the new coach recently appointed two assistants to her staff — Christine Doogan and Brad Battaglia.
Doogan arrives in Ithaca after nine years as an assistant for La Salle, where she enjoyed a decorated playing career. She ranks second all-time in scoring for the Explorers. At Cornell she will be charged primarily with developing post play.
“She exemplifies toughness. She is both a good post player and a solid recruiter,” Smith said.
A veteran of the Ivy League, Battaglia comes to Cornell from Columbia, where he was responsible for recruiting and arranging practices and player development.
“He knows the ins and outs of the league and brings youth and energy to the job,” Smith praised.
Besides her effervescent disposition, Smith arrives with a resume laden with impressive credentials. In her three seasons with the Quakers, the squad never finished worse than second and won the Ivy League title in 2000-2001. Smith is credited with recruiting a first team All-Ivy player and a pair of All-Rookie players during her tenure.
She began her career as an assistant at her alma mater, Rhode Island — a three-year term during which she briefly served as head coach.
The hiring came as a relief to the squad as the captains were forced to assume coaching responsibilities while the university conducted its search.
“It changed the role of being a captain. We wanted to hold the team together, and it brought us a lot closer,” said Force, who will serve as a tri-captain with seniors Ify Ossai and Lynell Davis.
Smith, whose career at Rhode Island landed her in the NCAA top 20 in both total assists and assists per game, inherits a team weakened by the loss of Do Stevens and Breean Wallace ’02 and returns three starters in the tri-captains.
“The attitude of the team is very positive. Expectations are high,” Lee said.
Smith gets her first test on Nov. 22 when the team opens its season at the Seton Hall tournament.
Archived article by Gary Schueller