Ferenz Leads Women’s Basketball to Outstanding Start

Cole Anderson

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With a 17-0 record so far in the 2013-2014 season, sitting atop the NWC and ranked third nationally, the Whitman women’s basketball team is following up their Elite Eight National Championship run last season with a very promising season so far. This level of dominance is due in large part to Head Coach Michelle Ferenz, who became the winningest coach in Whitman women’s basketball history earlier this season.

Photo by Halley McCormick

Now in her 23rd year as a head basketball coach and 13th year at Whitman, Ferenz has seen first hand what it takes to build a championship-caliber team, and she has used her experiences coaching elsewhere to gain the knowledge she has accumulated up until this point.

“After playing in college, I was fortunate enough to land a high school head coaching job in Okanogan, [Wash.],” said Ferenz . “I was lucky that first year that I inherited a veteran team who was pretty talented. We won a district championship and went to the state tournament, placing fifth. So basically, I was hooked.”

Each year after that, Ferenz’s teams were consistently competing for league titles and state playoff appearances.

“The consistency with which her teams competed is impressive because you do not recruit in high school. As a coach, you build a team around the players that transition into your program,” said Chris Ferenz, her assistant coach and husband, via email.

After 10 years in Okanogan, Ferenz found herself at Whitman College. She was hired in April 2001, which meant she was unable to recruit for her upcoming  season and was also the third women’s basketball coach in three years for Whitman. Despite the adversity, her team battled through the season and had numerous positive results.

“The highlight of that year was beating PLU who was ranked 17th in the nation that season.  PLU went on to play in the Elite Eight that season,” she said.

That marquee win set the tone for her legacy at Whitman.

“The expectation to compete and execute led the team to victory, despite being outmatched at each position.  She has asked the same of each team here at Whitman,” said Chris Ferenz.

Not only does she expect everything of her players in games, but Ferenz also encourages the same work ethic in practice.

Photo by Halley McCormick

“The number one trait as to why Michelle has been successful at Whitman College has been her expectation that her athletes work hard and compete each day. For the two hours that the team works each day, they are focused on becoming the best that they can be individually and collectively, with no excuses,” said Chris Ferenz.

Her players are very aware of those expectations as well. Ferenz has established her standards for the team and what she expects of each player, so even during practice, each individual is working to improve her own game and thus the team overall.

“There are so many things we cannot control about our season, but the things we can control are our daily effort and improvement.  That has not changed and never will,” she said.

According to senior guard Tiffani Traver, the women’s basketball team has been trained to be aware of Ferenz’s expectations.

“During practices, the way that they’re structured is based on what we need to work on. She has specific goals for us and she makes those known, so I really think that makes practice very productive,” said  Traver.

Ferenz’s coaching style is also highlighted by her positivity and optimism regardless of the likely result.

“She’s very critical, but very supportive at the same time, so it’s extremely productive when she corrects anything,” said Traver.

In her last two seasons at Whitman, Ferenz’s high standards for her team have made the difference in creating a championship-caliber team. Thanks to diligent recruiting and the steady development of players, Ferenz has recently been able to hone in on more detailed aspects of the game. She has also gotten to focus more in depth on defensive tactics  and to place significant emphasis on rebounding.

“The past two years, Michelle’s focus on rebounding has been the number one contribution to the teams success. Rebounding takes toughness and commitment to each possession at both ends of the floor,” said Chris Ferenz.

Traver expressed how grateful she was to have had a coach as knowledgeable, passionate and dedicated as Ferenz has been, but Ferenz seemed to echo similar sentiments about her players.

“The best thing about coaching at Whitman are the people … especially my players. I have loved the young women I have worked with here. They have made my job so much fun over the years, and I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to be a part of their lives. They are part of my family and always will be,” said Ferenz.

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