The women’s basketball team had just come off of its most successful Ivy season ever. With a second-place finish, the Red had staked its claim as one of the elite teams in the conference. However, a little over a month after the conclusion of a Cinderella season, head coach Marnie Dacko resigned and accepted a position at UMass-Amherst. And so, the program had to redefine itself.
Exit Dacko and enter Dayna Smith.
By accepting the vacancy in June, Smith became just the seventh head coach in the program’s history.
“The position was posted on the internet and just word of mouth,” Smith said of the job search.
Smith, who was an accomplished player as a point guard for the University of Rhode Island, has had prior coaching experience. Upon graduation from URI in 1996, Smith began a three-year assistant coaching stint at her alma mater. In her final season with the Rams, she served as an interim head coach for three months, making her the youngest head coach in that program’s history.
The following year, she accepted an assistant’s position with Penn. During her three seasons at Penn, the Quakers won the Ivy title in 2000-2001 and finished as the league’s runner-up on two separate occasions.
Having already achieved success in the Ancient Eight, Smith and her staff will undoubtedly have an edge as they take on the job at hand.
“I think recruiting and coaching in the Ivy League is very unique, special. You’re dealing with a complete student-athlete,” Smith said. “I think the experience is totally different than a scholarship-type school so I feel it will be an advantage to me. It’s not brand-new to me. It’s not something I’ll have to feel out. I have a good feel of what the league offers, what kind of student-athlete we need to recruit in order to compete.”
And although the departed Dacko was a team favorite, Smith has encountered no problems in winning over her new troops.
“They’ve been great. Right from the beginning, they’ve been very open,” Smith said of the players. “Yes, they had a close relationship with their old coaching staff, but they were all very mature, very welcoming.
“I think to a certain extent, they didn’t fully give us their trust until they saw what we were going to be about. And I think our coaching staff has shown that we’re all about them, and that we want to build this team up together, and we want to have a good time doing that,” she continued. “I think once they saw that, they’ve embraced it, and they’ve embraced us.”
Now that Smith has been accepted as part of the women’s basketball family, the focus shifts to the hardwood, where the Red must deal with the graduation of All-Ivy performers Do Stevens ’02 and Breean Walas ’02.
However, the young coach has been unfazed by the pressure to duplicate last season’s success.
“I don’t feel any pressure,” Smith stated. “I think we need to look at what they accomplished and hopefully build on that from year to year. We need to realize we’re a totally different team than what they were last year. Yes, they built this program up to something, and we want to keep it there, but we also want to take it to new heights.”
With a relatively young squad in tow, an Ivy League championship may be a tad optimistic for the Red. Smith, though, has rather simple goals for her squad.
“I want us to get better everyday,” she said. “That’s what our main goal is right now. If we can get better every single day, if we can get better by playing together, by working together, by pushing each other, by being there for each other, we can win a lot of games in the Ivy League.”
Archived article by Alex Ip