Five years ago, the women’s basketball team was a struggling program, stuck at the bottom of the America East every year. Enter Head Coach Richard Barron at the start of the 2011 season, and everything has changed. After two years spent rebuilding the program, Barron brought the team to the postseason in his third year. In his fourth round, he coached the Black Bears to a 23-9 record, while also capturing the America East Regular Season Co-Championship. Now in his fifth year at the helm, Barron has laid the foundation for a program destined for success.
“We want to be committed to hard work and discipline, on and off the court,” Barron said. “We want to continue to make a difference in the community, and reach out.”
After two years as an assistant coach at North Carolina State and a six-year head coaching tenure spent at Princeton, it was clear Barron was the right person to bring the women’s program back to the greatness it hadn’t seen in 10 years. The decision to come to Maine was an easy one for him to make.
“I really felt like there was a lot of potential here that was not realized,” Barron said. “I thought this was a community where women’s basketball was appreciated and relevant. That’s not something that you find everywhere, so I really appreciated the fact that there was a fan base that cared about the sport and supported the team.”
As expected, it took some time for Barron’s group to come together, as they posted a 12-47 mark in their first two seasons. In 2011, the team went 8-23, which was a considerable improvement over their previous seasons. A year later, the team went 4-24, but there was still plenty of faith that in time, the hard work and development would pay off.
“In the beginning, you’ve just have got to trust the process, trust your instincts, your own experiences and stick to it. Obviously, there are times when you have to change things up or modify your approach, and you learn on the go,” Barron said.
One of Barron’s best traits has been his ability to bring talent into the Cross Insurance Center. One of his first recruits was fourth-year forward Liz Wood, and a year later, third-year guard Sigi Koizar was brought in. Both are now fundamental cogs for the team’s offense. Barron has been able to work wonders, considering how Maine has limited resources when it comes to bringing in prospects.
“There are no points for second place in recruiting. You have to look at the big picture and decide where’s your time best spent, where are your resources, which are limited to us, best spent, where you’re going to get the biggest return on your dollar and your time,” Barron said. “Sometimes it means recruiting people who may be undervalued, haven’t been seen as much, haven’t had the exposure or recruiting internationally and that’s where we’ve seemed to have had the best success.”
On top of his important role in recruiting players, Barron has laid the framework for a program where expectations are high. But he credits the success of his system to the hard work of his assistant coaches.
“I have great faith in the staff, and the culture that we’ve built,” Barron said, “It’s about setting standards on a daily basis, trying to think about the needs of the team, where we are, what needs to be worked on, what’s going well.”
Now midway through the 2015-2016 season, expectations are higher than ever as the team stands at 13-7, as they chase Albany and Stony Brook for the America East Regular Season Championship. In the last three seasons, the Black Bears have posted a 53-31 record, which has turned them into one of the more dangerous teams in their conference. The recruitment has paid off, the program has been turned around, but Barron still recognizes that the team has some growing to do.
“Our team wants to win the conference, regular season, win the tournament, go to the NCAAs,” Barron said. “We want to play to our potential, I don’t know if we quite have yet, I think we’ve got close a few times. We’ve had players who’ve played well, but I don’t know if we’ve got everybody playing well at the same time.”
Barron is the mastermind behind the rebirth of the women’s basketball program. They are back on track to reach their former glory and each year they’ve found ways to improve.
“We still think we can do even better as we move forward,” Barron said.
At the end of the day, Barron is one of Maine’s most valued coaches because of the attitude he brings to his job and the Orono community. Wins and losses are important to him, but they aren’t the only thing that matters to him.
“The proudest moments are probably off the court. Whether it’s seeing a player graduate that maybe came from a disadvantaged background, or when former players have got married, or had children, being at weddings, seeing birth announcements, those sorts of things,” Barron said.
In the next few weeks, the Black Bears will fight for the top spot in the America East, but as long as Barron continues to bring his attitude, leadership and expert recruiting to the program, they’ll have plenty of opportunities to stay at the top for years to come.