The Glenville State women’s basketball team is having a special season. Not only have they received votes, slowly working their way back to the national rankings, they have also gotten off to a fast start behind Division II’s top offense. Now at 14-2 and second place in the Mountain East Conference, the Lady Pioneers are thriving behind rookie head coach — and GSC alum — Kim Stephens.
“It was unbelievable,” Stephens said on returning to her alma mater. “First and foremost, I never thought Coach [Charles] Marshall would leave. The only thing I wanted was for maybe one person to reach out to me. I didn’t really think they would fly me in for an interview. That was pretty special for me, I would have been happy just to be in the mix.”
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Stephens ended her playing career — one which saw her become captain of the Pioneers — and became an assistant coach for GSC. She headed west as an assistant coach at Division I Sacramento State for the past three seasons, but she always kept close tabs on her alma mater. When she got the call, she had the advantage of being familiar with her new opportunity.
“I knew I was stepping into a really good situation,” Stephens said. “I wasn’t coming into a situation where the cupboard was bare. I inherited a very good team. We had to fill some spots, there was nobody signed for the next season, so my first couple months here were full panic mode. I knew I wanted girls that could rebound, but could score and were athletic and could play this uptempo style. Had you asked me then if we would have been 14-2 in January, I would have laughed at you.”
Despite having years of experience as assistants on their side, both Stephens and her assistant — Cody Gilmore — were still young for the coaching game, both just 27 years old. To fill out her first coaching staff, Stephens looked no further than her own family to fill the role. Her father, Scott Stephens, came out of retirement to fill the void.
“I give people a hard time when they ask me about it. Christmas was good. Thanksgiving was good. We still enjoy family holidays with one another,” Stephens said laughing. “My dad was my high school coach, he’s the reason I wanted to coach. We had a young staff, and I knew instantly that we needed some experience. It had always been our dream to work together. It happened way sooner than we thought it would, and it’s been great.”
Now GSC is rolling. No strangers to explosive, high scoring offenses, often finding themselves at the top of the MEC in scoring for several seasons now, they have taken it to a whole new level this season. After leading the MEC with 89.2 points per contest last season, they lead all of DII in scoring at 99.6 points a contest. While Paris McCeod -- fresh off a 39 pont performance to bring her season avegare to 18.4 per game -- leads the potent attack, they have done it with balance. Five Lady Pioneers average double-digits and three more chip in more than eight points per game.
“What makes this team so special, compared to the system teams in the past, is that we don’t have a lot of holes,” Stephens said. “We have anyone that any night could give you ten. We actually have anyone, on any night that can almost give you 20. We’re very hard to scout. If one person is off it’s not the end of the world, we have eight more that can fill in for them. That makes my job a lot easier as a coach.”
Their prolific offense was on full display January 14th. Squaring off against their former coach, now at the helms of West Virginia State, the Pioneers not only won in dominating form, but record-setting fashion. The two teams combined to go 37-for-98 from 3-point land, an NCAA DII women’s basketball record. Also entering the record books was their 43-point first quarter.
“It was funny,” Stephens said. “I don’t think we scored in the first two minutes of the game. We were playing against their former coach and the girls were jacked up. I think they were a little too jacked up, trying to do too much. I was looking at one of the players saying that we were never going to score. Finally we just got it rolling. It was a fun game.”
GSC is now 8-2 in the MEC, tied for second with UVa-Wise and trailing Wheeling Jesuit by one game. They have already defeated Wise, but their matchup against WJU didn’t end as well. The 79-66 loss was their lowest output of the season by a landslide.
“It’s hard to play the way we want to play, and it’s hard to press when you're always playing defense on a miss,” Stephens said of the WJU contest. “It was a vulnerable experience as a head coach, just standing on the sideline, watching the team.”
Now, they head into the heart of the MEC schedule, with matchups against Wise, WJU and Fairmont State still on the slate. Stephens knows those games are important, but so is each and every matchup they have as they try to make their long-awaited return to the NCAA postseason.
“As the leaders of this league, with us and Wise and Jesuit and even Fairmont back in the mix, we’re going to beat up on each other,” Stephens said. “We’re all probably going to have one more loss to one of those top four teams. But it’s whoever doesn’t drop that game that they shouldn’t lose. It’s all about winning the games you should win. I think it’s going to come down to whoever takes care of those games.”