Women’s basketball coach finalists visit UAF

By Reba Lean
Sun Star Reporter

In the last three years, the UAF women’s basketball team has seen three different coaches come and go. After losing Darryl Smith in Spring 2008, the athletic department hired Dave Thompson as an interim head coach. Thompson came from the local Hutchison High School where he coached the boys’ basketball team for five years. Now, UAF has narrowed down two candidates for a permanent head-coaching job with experiences and backgrounds that are polar opposites.

Jennifer Childress has been on Fairbanks soil before – or ice, rather. Coming from a five-year stint as Western Washington University’s women’s basketball assistant coach, she has made the trip up north with her team before. A WWU background gives her a Great Northwest Athletic Conference knowledge advantage.

Childress spent her early years in Anchorage. She attended Bartlett High School before moving to Washington in 1984. She said she has climbed the coaching ladder through every stage, starting as a high school coach and working her way up to college ball.
At 41 years old, Childress believes it is time to move up to a Division II head-coaching job. Coaching gives her a competitive outlet and a place to put her passion for teaching to good use. Although she often finds herself wanting to jump off the bench and encourage her team during game time, her coaching style is not all preaching. “I don’t talk a lot,” she said, “I think a lot of learning is through experience.” UAF’s team’s last-place performance in the GNAC doesn’t deter Childress. “It is going to be a process,” she admitted, but she believes that the women’s team’s future is wide open, and they can only go up.

Childress said Fairbanks’ home court advantage is one of the strongest she’s seen. She reminisced about WWU’s traditional trips to the sledding hill on campus, and the shocking slam of cold air to the lungs as one steps outdoors for the first time in Alaska. The darkness during winter made her team lethargic, she said, and she wants to put that advantage to use as coach.

John Duncan, 57, “googled” as much as he could about UAF before coming, but still feels there is a lot to learn. The former successful Division II coach decided to take it easy a few years ago and settled at the University of Maine at Machias where he took the women’s basketball team to a final four tournament for the first time in the school’s recent history. He feels his niche lies in Division II, though. With his many years’ experience as a head coach on the East Coast, he feels his recruitment powers are strong enough to carry over to the far Northwest.

His goal is to bring stability to the UAF program. He wants to secure the returning athletes and figure out “what pieces of the puzzle we have and what pieces of the puzzle we need.” At his age, he said, he doesn’t plan to use the job as a steppingstone. Instead, he feels that he has already accomplished the major things in life that he has wanted to. Coming from Maine, Duncan says he has experienced high wind chills up to -40, but never the frigid Fairbanks winter. “Fortunately,” he said, “it’s an indoor sport.”

Both coaches had yet to meet UAF assistant coach Christian Hood as of Tuesday, April 20, but were looking forward
to it. Hood has been a part of the women’s team for two years, and both finalists are considering keeping her a part of the team if accepted for the job.

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