Aiming to Lead PU Women’s Hoops to Greater Heights, New Head Coach Berube Emphasizing Drive, Character
IN GOOD HANDS: Carla Berube makes a point during her introductory press conference last Wednesday after taking the the helm of the Princeton University women’s basketball program. Berube is coming to Princeton after superb 17-year tenure as the head coach of the Tufts University women’s basketball team which saw her lead the Jumbos to a 384-96 recored in 17 seasons while reaching the NCAA Division III final twice, the Final Four four times, and the Sweet 16 nine times. She is succeeding Courtney Banghart, who left Princeton in late April to take over the University of North Carolina program. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
When the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team reached the waning moments of the 1995 NCAA championship game seeking its first national title, coach Geno Auriemma turned to a young sophomore guard Carla Berube.
Knowing that Berube had ice water in her veins, he called a play designed to get her to the free throw line, confident that she would come through. Berube drained those free throws as UConn went on to a 70-64 win over Tennessee and the crown.
Last Wednesday, Berube displayed that same coolness, holding her introductory press conference after recently being named as the head coach of the Princeton University women’s basketball program.
Speaking in an even tone in the event held at the Chandler Lounge in the Caldwell Field House, the business-like, genial Berube made it clear that she was unfazed by the pressure of succeeding Courtney Banghart, who went 254-103 in 12 seasons at Princeton, making the NCAA tournament in eight of the last 10 years before leaving in late April to take over the University of North Carolina women’s program.
“There is a nice blueprint here for success and a really great team that I am inheriting,” said Berube, who built the Tufts University women’s basketball program of the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) into a Division III powerhouse, as the Jumbos went 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.
“I just know how to win and I am very competitive. We are going to play the style that fits the personnel that we have but also to who I am as a coach. It has been successful for a number of years. It is finding that balance of both. There is a great returning group coming back and a great incoming freshman class. I want to win so we will keep on doing it.”
In fact, Berube, 43, believes she can take the Princeton program to even greater heights.
“I am looking forward to building on to the success,” said Berube.
“Coach Banghart did an unbelievable job. She has made Princeton into a perennial Ivy League contender and also a strong, established program across the country. I am excited to build on that and continue to be a force on the court, in the classroom, and in the community.”
Looking at the Tiger squad she has inherited, Berube believes it can be a force.
“There is a lot of talent, but you also see how hard they work; these are driven student athletes, both in the classroom and on the court,” said Berube of the squad which went 22-10 last year on the way to the Ivy League title and features two-time Ivy Player of the Year Bella Alarie and All-Ivy performer Carlie Littlefield.
“You could see that during games and I have been able to watch several games from this past season and the season before. I have watched Bella through USA basketball quite a bit. She is a very talented player but she has got a great group around her as well. We will tap into all of the talent that we have. We are going to play hard for 40 minutes and use the depth that we have. I am excited about the personnel and excited about the chemistry that we are going to form with four new players. Abby [Meyers] will be back as well. They are looking forward to this new joinery as well.”
Berube’s combination of drive, experience, and character impressed Princeton Director of Athletics Mollie Marcoux Samaan in the coaching selection process.
“We feel so fortunate that we found what we were looking for in coach Berube,” said Marcoux Samaan, noting that the legendary Auriemma called her the first day the job was posted to recommend his former player.
“She has a tremendous track record. The accomplishments at Tufts and throughout her career and as a national champion player and also as a coach with USA basketball are unprecedented and really remarkable. The stats and accomplishments are really only part of this. We spent a lot of time getting to know Carla during the process and talking to people who know her the best, the superlatives and the enthusiasm from the people that she has worked closely with could fill a room. We were just so impressed by what we heard. We really thrilled that she is going to take on this program.”
Berube acknowledges that it will take some time for her to get up to speed with the Princeton program.
“It is an adjustment to going from Tufts University to Princeton University, I have got a lot to learn,” said Berube.
“There are so many people here who are willing to help out in this transition with so many great coaches I have met in the last few weeks to people in admissions to people across the board. As for the academic piece, I am recruiting the same driven student athletes with the same requirements academically.”
In guiding her Tiger athletes, Berube will draw on the experience she gained 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 learned a lot with USA basketball. I was able to coach a next level athlete too which was exciting,” said Berube.
“It was incredible to take a group that you only had for two weeks to practice with and then to try to win a world cup against other countries that are practicing all year round with. It is developing those relationships. Those kids need to buy in right away and develop great chemistry among themselves. It was an incredible and unique experience.”
Playing at UConn for Auriemma helped shape Berube’s approach to coaching.
“You are a product of our environment and I took so much from what I learned there, just how driven you need to be and how hard you need to work,” said Berube.
“A lot of things off the court I learned from him were on how important relationships are. He gets the most out of his players.You go in there thinking you can do this and then he takes you to here. I left after four years there feeling that was the best four years of my life. It still is.”
Now, Berube is determined to help her Princeton players enjoy a life-changing four years.
“The college experience is so amazing, that is why I do this – being a mentor and a role model for these young women,” said Berube.
“I am trying to get the most out of them and be there for them in any way they need. It is let’s have a successful program and team and a fun time.”