A little competition, and A LOT of sweat, goes a long way when paired with HAVOC!
The 13 players on VCU’s women’s basketball team give CrossFitters a run for their money.
“We go from one thing to the next. There’s a really fast tempo,” said Beth O’Boyle, new head coach of the VCU squad, sitting on a couch in her second-floor office inside The Stu. “20 seconds to get a drink and you’re back on the court.”
What opponents can expect when the A-10 season starts next month is unwavering, untiring, non-stop play from the VCU women. “The opponent [should be] sore after the game, and tired, because our tempo was up the court fast,” O’Boyle said. VCU opponents will say no matter what the score was “if we were up 10 or down 30” the VCU women just kept coming at them.
“And we try to create that competitiveness and that tempo in our practices,” O’Boyle said. “I don’t think you can turn it on and off. You have to practice that way to play that way.”
O’Boyle didn’t get where she is by taking it easy on herself, or her players. “Winners get a drink, losers get some exercise,” she said, cracking a smile, referring to practice drills. “And that starts engraining that competitiveness, whether it’s from our shooting drills to our scrimmages to transition drills. It’s all competitive.”
“Above everyone else”
O’Boyle first learned competitiveness from her siblings. “I’m the youngest of eight, and I have four older brothers,” she said.
She’d play basketball with her brothers in the driveway and watch her father root for the Celtics. By the third grade she was playing in CYO and REC leagues, alternating between soccer and basketball. She attended Academy of the Holy Cross High School in Kensington, MD. “They had a really strong tradition of girl’s basketball,” O’Boyle said. “I had some really great coaches in high school who were very involved and great role models.”
Coaching appealed to her even as a high school student. “I took a really strong interest in how the coaches were motivating different players and just the strategy behind it,” she said. “I really thought I was going to be a high school coach.”
But at Gettysburg College she helped coach at the collegiate level as a graduate assistant. She loved it.
O’Boyle’s since accumulated 15 years of collegiate coaching experience. Before arriving at VCU, she led the Stony Brook Seawolves to unprecedented success. Ahead of the 2013 season, an America East Coaches poll picked the Seawolves to finish dead last. Instead, the Seawolves produced a 10-win improvement over the previous season (4 to 14) and earned a #4 seed. In 2014, the Seawolves again improved by 10 wins, making their 24-win season a program record.
When the former VCU coach, Marlene Stollings, left for the University of Minnesota last year,1 VCU’s athletics director Ed McLaughlin put O’Boyle on list of possible replacements. McLaughlin told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that O’Boyle “quickly rose above everyone else.”
O’Boyle believes VCU is an ideal place to coach. She said basketball coaches look at several things when considering a coaching position at a school. “One is the league, and the A-10 is great for women’s basketball. You have the top three teams going to the NCAA tournament, where it’s not just a one-bid league,” she said. “That’s important.”
VCU also reaches into the region’s talent pool with “multiple Division 1 players coming out of Richmond,” O’Boyle said. Richmond’s proximity to other talent pools in the Norfolk and DC areas is also a boon. “The NCAA tracks this: when you look at top 100 players, generally a higher percentage of them are staying within three hours of their home town,” O’Boyle said, which puts VCU in a great geographic spot for talent.
VCU’s comittment to both its basketball teams was icing on the cake. “When there’s a $25 million practice facility being built for men’s and women’s basketball, that’s on a whole different level,” she said. “We’re going to have our own court, we’re going to have an athletic training room with underwater treadmills. I haven’t seen that since I’ve been at an NBA practice facility.”
“That’s something that stands out to recruits, and I think it puts you at a different level.”
That training facility, scheduled to open in September 2015, will also sport a cutting-edge strength and conditioning room, where players on the women’s team will gain an edge over opponents.
O’Boyle said her players spend three to four days in the weight room. “Everything we do in our weight room is geared to make us better basketball players,” she said. “We don’t have them do any lifts to make them better football players or bodybuilders. It’s geared toward basketball.”
To help curb the ACL injuries in women’s athletics, players do a lot of one-legged squats and focus on jumping and landing exercises.
Players also buckle down on core strength, which gives them an advantage. “So when you’re attacking the basket and someone bumps you, it becomes an ‘and 1’ instead of just getting to the foul line,” she said. “Or when you’re trying to keep somebody out of the paint, you’re able to body them up and use your strength to keep them out.”
While her predecessor preached offensive blitzkriegs, O’Boyle’s system is more defense-minded. “It’s a man-to-man and it’s a very aggressive at times, especially with this team. We’re going to extend it to full court pressing, to trapping, trying to take advantage of our athleticism, because I do think that’s one of the things here is we have a group of good athletes and that can cause teams some problems. So we’re really going to try and put pressure on the other teams’ offense and not sit back and let them run things.”
In April 2009, when VCU announced Shaka Smart would replace Anthony Grant, Smart said: “We are going to wreak havoc on our opponent’s psyche and their plan of attack.” He meant it. The controlled freneticism his players use, often in the form of full court presses, can leave opponents threadbare from the havoc they battle on the court.
“That Havoc came out of the way that they played,” O’Boyle said. “It wasn’t just a name that marketing came up with. It was the way that they played, and that pace and that intensity created so much discord for the other team.”
The play preached by O’Boyle’s predecessor, Marlene Stollings, was so offense-focused she coined it Fury to pair with the men’s Havoc.
O’Boyle and her players don’t abide in a term. At least not yet. “I think we’re still developing our team identity,” she said. “I do think we’ll be a real uptempo style team. We will press, and it’ll feel like track meet at times. But I don’t know if we have a word that represents that yet. We’re building what we’re all about.”
What the team’s all about goes beyond their play. “It’s really important to me that our players really get-after in the classroom. That’s a priority for us,” O’Boyle said. “Because women basketball players aren’t getting the Lebron James contracts. That degree is the most important thing for them.”
O’Boyle wants to impart life lessons she learned through sports. “I don’t think I would have gotten here if I didn’t learn some of the skills I learned as an athlete,” she said. “And I want our players to have that same type of experience where you’re learning to be responsible, you’re learning time management” and so on.
They’ll also learn to embrace their community. “I think they’re role models,” O’Boyle said about her players. “And I think it’s also important to give back to Richmond for all the fans that come out and watch them, and also the little girls that can see themselves playing college sports some day too.”
When the VCU women’s basketball team opens the season against Wagner November 14th at the Siegel Center, they’ll take the first step to create the team’s tempo and culture that O’Boyle believes will breed success.
“We want to build a culture of this is what we do: we practice hard, we get into the gym, basketball matters,” she said. “And then, when we’ve established that culture, I think the winning and everything else will take care of itself.”
Including the name.
Photo courtesy of VCU Athletics
- Whose athletics director, Norwood Teague, once ran VCU’s athletics program. ↩