Used To Winning Big as UConn Player, Tufts Coach Berube Taking the Helm of Tiger Women’s Hoops
WINNING APPROACH: Carla Berube makes a point to her players during her tenure as the head coach of the Tufts University women’s basketball team. Berube was recently named to guide the Princeton University women’s program, succeeding Courtney Banghart, who left Princeton in late April to take over the University of North Carolina squad. At Tufts, Berube guided the Jumbos to a 384-96 record in 17 seasons. She enjoyed a stellar playing career for the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team which saw her score 1,381 points and help the Huskies go 132-8 and win the 1995 NCAA title. (Photo by SportsPix, provided courtesy of Tufts Athletic Communications)
By Bill Alden
After a stellar career at the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team which saw her score 1,381 points and help the Huskies go 132-8 and win the 1995 NCAA title followed by a season of pro ball, Carla Berube decided to take a break from the game.
“I was living in California after the ABL (American Basketball League) went under and I was out there for two years,” said Berube.
“I wanted to get away from basketball a little bit because it had been my life for however many years.”
But Berube found she couldn’t stay away from the game, doing some volunteer coaching at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and then coming back east to serve as an assistant coach at Providence College.
In 2002, Berube took the helm of the Tufts University women’s basketball program of the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) and built it into a Division III powerhouse, going 384-96 in 17 seasons while reaching the NCAA Division III final twice, the Final Four four times and the Sweet 16 nine times, including each of the last eight.
Now, Berube will be bringing her winning habit to the Ivy League as she was recently named as the head coach of the Princeton University women’s basketball team, succeeding Courtney Banghart, who left Princeton in late April to take over the University of North Carolina program.
“It had to be something really incredible, really special for me to leave Tufts and Princeton is it,” said Berube, 43, who will be holding her introductory press conference on June 19.
“It is an amazing opportunity to take this next step to the Ivy League to a league that over the last five, 10 years has been elevated so much. There are great coaches, there are so many great student athletes. Every game is very, very competitive. It will be fun.”
Berube believes that her time at Tufts prepared her well for the challenges she will face at Princeton.
“It is not an unbelievable transition from NESCAC to Ivy, they call us the little Ivies,” said Berube, who was the 2015 Pat Summitt Trophy winner as the Division III National Coach of the Year and a three-time regional coach of the year.
“How you have to recruit is very similar in terms of the student athletes that you are looking at and the whole admissions process. I think that would be an easier transition. They are the same kind of players that I had at Tufts. They are incredibly driven, they want to be great, they want to learn, they want to be successful, and they are competitive. When I came on my visit to Princeton and met with the search committee and the coaches and had a tour of the campus, it felt right.”
Playing at UConn for legendary Geno Auriemma laid the groundwork for Berube’s coaching success.
“It had a huge impact, it is where I learned so much on the court,” said Berube.
“I learned how hard you need to play to be successful; how dialed in you need to be to the Xs and Os. I feel like I was always a student of the game, but to learn from Geno for four years has been instrumental. It is also the relationships that he has off the court. To this day, I can call him up for anything I would ever need. It is just that important culture winning programs have and is so vital.”
During her time at Tufts, Berube focused on creating a culture that emphasized scrappy play.
“We are defensive minded; at that end of the floor, we want to make it really hard for our opponents set up what they want to do and get the shots that they want,” said Berube, who has succeeded internationally with USA Basketball, leading the U.S. Under-16 national team to a gold medal at the FIBA Americas and the Under-17 national team to a gold medal at the World Championships.
“I like to coach gritty players. You will find that we want to get up and down the floor and play up-tempo in the open court. It is a fluid offense, there is not a lot of standing around. I will always hang my hat on the tough defense that leads to easier offense.”
In addition to developing toughness on the court, Berube has prioritized building meaningful relationships with her players, starting with the recruiting process.
“I have learned how important the recruiting piece is and how to sell Tufts; you are really selling the school that you are coaching at,” said Berube, who has three children with her spouse Meghan.
“I was able to bring in such incredible athletes and student. I think I was a better offensive coach. I had a baby almost six years ago and I got a little softer. I think I became better with relationships from that with my players and team dynamics.”
Berube knows that she is succeeding a special coach in Banghart, who went 254-103 in 12 seasons at Princeton, making the NCAA tournament in eight of the last 10 years, with seven automatic bids and the league’s only at-large bid by a men’s or women’s team.
“Courtney has just done such an incredible job with the program from the undefeated season to the many Ivy League championships that she has won,” said Berube.
“There are players going into the WNBA and playing overseas and others leaving Princeton with incredible jobs who are ready to take on the world. She has been a great role model and mentor as well, they are big shoes to fill. I have been doing this for 17 years too, I will be me. I want to make sure that this program stays very strong.”
Banghart didn’t leave the cupboard bare as Berube will be inheriting a strong team, headlined by two-time Ivy Player of the Year Bella Alarie and All-Ivy performer Carlie Littlefield as the program seeks its third straight Ivy title.
“I have seen them play a little bit, I have watched some film before getting the job and got really, really excited watching them play,” said Berube.
“It is some awesome talent with Bella and Carlie, and there are some really good players around them and a very good incoming freshman class.”
In making contact with her new players, Berube has been giving them straightforward message.
“I am excited to work with them and to be able to help them achieve their goals, individually and collectively as a team,” said Berube, noting that she has been able to speak directly with some of her new charges and text others.
“We are going to work really, really hard and we are going to work together. We are going to have a great experience and we are going to win championships.”