Springfield, Ohio - There was a time, not long after she was named head coach of Wittenberg University's women's basketball program, that Pam Smith (then known by her maiden name, Evans) wondered out loud if she would ever turn things around. Three-hundred wins later, Smith has established herself, and her alma mater's program, as one of the most consistent winners around.
The Tigers won the 300th game of Smith's illustrious Wittenberg career against the College of Wooster Lady Scots Tuesday night at the university's HPER Center. The 76-69 North Coast Athletic Conference tournament quarterfinal win moved the top-seeded Tigers into Thursday's semifinals against Allegheny College.
As usual, the unassuming Smith was more concerned with the fact that her team escaped with a narrow victory with fine team play than she was with her landmark win. For perspective, just 21 women's basketball coaches at the NCAA Division III level had won 300 games in their career heading into this season and Smith stood tied for 26th among active Division III coaches in total victories at that time.
"It was nice to win that game," Smith said with a relieved sigh. "Three hundred wins or not, we needed the win here in particular."
Smith now has a career record of 300 wins and 128 losses in 16 seasons as the Tigers' head coach. Since taking over a struggling Wittenberg program prior to the 1986-87 season, Smith has guided the Tigers to ten 20-win seasons, six appearances in the NCAA tournament and eight NCAC regular season championships. The team enjoyed a breakout 1989-90 season by going 26-3 and winning the NCAC in its first season as a league member, and since that time the Tigers have posted 13 straight winning seasons. Wittenberg has never finished lower than third in an NCAC regular season.
A 1999 Wittenberg Athletic Hall of Honor inductee, Smith was recognized after the game with a proclamation from the Mayor of Cincinnati, her hometown. The 1978 Greenhills High School graduate was a record-setting forward at Wittenberg during her playing days, a three-time team Most Valuable Player and an Academic All-America selection. She still holds the record for scoring average in a season at Wittenberg.
For all her success and all the wins, Smith is most appreciative of the people she has been associated with since returning to Wittenberg in 1986 after coaching at her high school alma mater, earning a master's degree while working as an assistant coach at Ithaca College and coaching for one season at West Essex High School in North Caldwell, N.J. The university's associate athletics director and senior women's administrator, Smith has not only coached basketball but she has survived several bouts with cancer without missing a game.
"I don't worry about the number of wins or anything like that," Smith said. "Primarily, 300 wins means I've been around here a long time. I've had so many great players and so many great assistant coaches. They're all a part of 300 wins that I get credit for.
"I've been so fortunate to be a part of this program and to have worked with so many great people. This is a team game and every one of those wins was a result of that emphasis."
A solid motto for a solid coach - and a big winner.
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