For Oneonta's Thompson, the learning never ends

More news about: SUNY Oneonta
Thompson notched career win No. 400 in the season opener.
Oneonta athletics photo


By Andrew Lovell
D3sports.com

When the Oneonta women's basketball team tipped off the 2017-18 season back in November, the roster looked considerably different than it did one year earlier.

Four freshmen and three transfers account for more than half of the Red Dragons' 13-player roster. From the outside looking in, that's a considerable challenge for any coach and program. But for coach Daphne Thompson, that difficulty was mitigated by one key difference: Those new faces weren't new to her.

Though the Red Dragons didn't begin their regular season until Nov. 17, Thompson began holding weekly meetings with her new players from the first week they arrived on campus in the fall. Academics, dorm rooms, roommates; any and all topics were welcomed as Thompson strived to create a personal bond.

"I'm building strong, confident women to be successful in the world," Thompson said. "That's my job. I'd like to win a lot of games along the way, but ultimately my job is to get them to perform holistically. We talk about that all the time."

Those seven newcomers, combined with Oneonta's four returning starters from 2016-17, have helped the Red Dragons enter February with a 13-6 (8-4) record. Oneonta is tied with New Paltz and Cortland in the SUNYAC standings, trailing only Geneseo (18-2, 13-0).

Winning is important to Thompson, and she's done plenty of it throughout her 26 years as a Division III head coach. After spending her first 15 years at Hartwick, Thompson moved across the street in Oneonta, N.Y., to SUNY Oneonta, guiding the Red Dragons to the NCAA tournament in 2012-13. Thompson tallied her 400th career win earlier this season.

Despite the impressive career achievements, Thompson doesn't measure her impact or value as a coach in wins and losses. She measures it in relationships.

Thompson teaches accountability as much as she coaches X's and O's.
Oneonta athletics photo

"The world is numbers-driven at this point in time," Thompson said. "You can't take that out, so you have to learn how to manage the numbers. Trying to build a program that values the people in the program, not the success of the individual, is I think the critical piece."

After a decorated high school career, Thompson played four years of Division I basketball for the University of Delaware, helping the Blue Hens win a pair of East Coast Conference Championships. She graduated in 1990 with a physical education degree and served as a graduate assistant coach for the next two years while completing her master's.

She watched, she learned, she contributed, and ultimately she landed the head coaching position at Hartwick after those two years.

"As I tell people all the time, I've been going to college since I was 18," Thompson said. "The good news is I don't have to go to class anymore."

Thompson might not be attending class, but she's always learning. That's reflected in her approach to coaching, which to her mirrors teaching.

"The philosophy when I played and when I first started coaching was pretty much, whatever the coach said, that's what you did," Thompson said. "You might not have liked what they did, you might not have agreed with what they did, but you did it."

"As we've progressed through time, I believe in order to be successful, you have to be willing to change and grow," Thompson added. "And if you're not willing to do that, you're going to be out."

Thompson recalled a player from her first season at Oneonta who, much to Thompson's initial frustration, repeatedly asked her a single question: why? Every, single, day. Why are we doing this? Why is this important? Why? Thompson quickly realized the player wasn't questioning her ability as a coach; she simply wanted to understand the purpose of her actions.

"It wasn't that she did not want to do it," Thompson said. "She just needed to know why she was doing it."

That fundamental understanding has stuck with Thompson, who actively seeks players that strive for greatness in four important criteria: as a student, as a citizen, as a teammate, and as a player. She's not there to act as a second mother; a point Thompson makes clear to all of her players. But she is there to hold them accountable, while simultaneously having empathy for their learning process.

"When people complain about college students, I say, 'They're always going to be freshmen,'" Thompson said. "How do you help them and not get discouraged because they're making the same mistakes over and over and over? They're just new faces. You can't get frustrated with their mistakes because that's their learning experience. If they don't do it, then they don't learn."

This year's team doesn't feature a single double-digit scorer, but instead boasts six players -- sophomore guard/forward Leanne Corso, junior guard/forward Madeline Frank, sophomore guard Alexa Amalbert, junior guard Teresa Anken, sophomore guard Olivia Allrich, and senior guard Samantha Lisikatos -- averaging between 5.2 and 9.5 points per game. That's the type of balance and unselfishness that reflects an appreciation for people and team over numbers and personal accolades. Thompson wouldn't have it any other way.

Oneonta faces Fredonia (8-12, 6-7) and Buffalo State (8-11, 5-8) on the road this weekend as it winds closer to the end of the regular season on Saturday, Feb. 17.

New contenders in the Empire 8

A quick glance at the Empire 8 women's standings reveals some familiar faces, including St. John Fisher (14-5, 9-1) and Nazareth (10-9, 6-4).

But sandwiched in between those two teams are Sage, in its first year in the Empire 8 after a decade with the Skyline Conference, and Houghton, in its sixth year in the Empire 8.

Sage reached the NCAA tournament last season and stood out as one of the Skyline's top contenders on an annual basis. Houghton's success is a bit more surprising, given that the Highlanders won just 10 combined conference games over the last three seasons. Houghton is already 7-3 in Empire 8 play this season.

If the Empire 8 conference tournament started today, the No. 2 seed-No. 3 seed matchup would feature Sage and Houghton. There's plenty of basketball still to be played, but that's impressive for two relative newcomers to a traditionally tough conference.

Lancaster Bible tallies key win vs. Wilson

Herbie Brown scored a game-high 21 points, and Christo Majok added 16 points as Lancaster Bible held off Wilson 76-75 in a key NEAC showdown last Wednesday.

Brown and Jalen Archer each sank a pair of free throws, and the Chargers' defense held the Phoenix to just three points over the final two minutes of regulation to seal the victory.

The win kept Lancaster Bible unbeaten in NEAC play, and the Chargers have since improved to 15-4 overall and 10-0 in conference. Wilson (12-6, 6-3) now sits 3.5 games back in the NEAC South standings. With just over two weeks remaining in the regular season, and sweeps of Wilson and Gallaudet (6-13, 6-5) under its belt, Lancaster Bible sits in the driver's seat in the NEAC South.

Morrisville State (11-7, 9-1) and SUNYIT (12-6, 8-1) are currently the top two teams in the NEAC North.

Top 25 roundup: Rochester slips four spots

The Rochester women's team (16-2, 6-1) fell to No. 11, down four slots from No. 7 last week, in this week's D3hoops.com Top 25 poll. Geneseo (18-2, 13-0) continued to receive votes in the women's poll.

In the men's poll, both Plattsburgh State (15-4, 12-1) and Rochester (13-5, 4-3) received votes.

Contact me

Have a story idea? A fun stat? Just want to talk some hoops? I'm always happy to hear from a fellow D-III fan. I can be reached via email at andrew.lovell@d3sports.com, or on Twitter at @Andrew_Lovell.

 

 



Justin Goldberg

Andrew Lovell is a writer based in Connecticut and a former online news editor for ESPN.com, as well as a former sports staff writer/editor for the New Britain Herald (Conn.). He has written feature stories for ESPN.com, currently contributes fantasy football content to RotoBaller.com, and has been a regular contributor to D3sports.com sites since 2007. Andrew has also written for a number of daily newspapers in New York, including the Poughkeepsie Journal, Ithaca Journal and Auburn Citizen. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2008 with B.A. in Sport Media and a minor in writing.