Coach profile: women’s head basketball coach Cindy Holbrook
Cindy Holbrook is in her 18th season as head women’s basketball coach at UW-River Falls. She holds a career record of 235-210, and she led the Falcons to a WIAC championship in 2015-2016 with a 23-6 record. Holbrook also played in the WIAC at UW-Stout and was named WIAC player of the year in 1994. She is also the only person to be named WIAC player of the year and WIAC coach of the year.
The Student Voice sat down with Holbrook to discuss her transition from player to coach in the WIAC and her team’s 3-1 start to the 2017-2018 season.
Q: When did you first arrive at UWRF?
A: I’ve been here since 1995. I was the assistant basketball coach for 5 years and head tennis coach for 5 years. I taught some classes and used to help advise in the teacher education department.
Q: What did your playing career in the WIAC help prepare you for in coaching?
A: This conference is ridiculously good. Being familiar with the competitive level makes a big difference. The women athletes are so much stronger and faster than when I played. It’s fun seeing how the conference has grown.
Q: What experience did you have as a women’s coach before getting the job for the Falcons?
A: I used to coach with AAU and was an assistant at Stout for a year. I used to travel and work different coach’s basketball camps in college, but I got most of my experience here. I love this conference and the fact that River Falls is a small public school. I’m a public school person to the core. A lot of the same reasons students come here is a reason it’s great to coach here. If you want to coach DIII basketball, it’s a fantastic place to be.
Q: How much of a role does teaching play into your passion for being at UWRF?
A: My master’s degree is in sports psychology. I had the opportunity to teach the psychology of coaching class. I used to teach it with Connie Foster, who was our dean and chancellor for a few years. That opportunity to get into that class with a co-teacher with that experience was a great opportunity. It was a perfect mash-up for my background and you really can’t beat teaching that class.
Q: After a strong first season (18-8 in 2001), how did you respond to three losing seasons?
A: The first year that I coached, our team over-achieved in every way. We weren’t nearly as talented as probably anyone else in the league, but they bought into each other. When you get a team to do that they will be way better than they should be. It also takes time to grow into a head coach. It’s not the same as being an assistant, and you can’t know that until you are in that position. It took me some time to find my rhythm and recruit and build a program.
Q: How have you managed the ups and downs of overall records from year to year?
A: There’s a lot more variables in a team’s success than people realize. One injury can make or break a season, or you can lose five close games and a team doesn’t look as nearly good as you are. The record will vary and one or two little things will make or break your record.
Q: What has been the team’s strongest aspect in the opening four games of play?
A: We’re pretty balanced this year and the team chemistry is really positive. I’m not convinced that we’re doing the basketball things right now and we need to get them to buy into each other a little bit more. We need to do the hard things in the game. We haven’t got the commitment to that, and now would be better than later. I think we will have a good team if we get it. I wish I know when it will come, but you learn in coaching that you have a lot less control than you think you do.
Q: How well has Brynn Liljander adjusted to being back on the court after her season-ending injury last year?
A: She’s such a special kid. She’s a competitor to her core and has bounced back really well. Her demeanor and energy are really hard to replace. She’s a sparky kid and even in practice she’s like that.
Q: How will the team adjust to being on the road at Gustavus, with seven of their first eight games at home?
A: We haven’t been on the road yet, but we have a pretty experienced team, so I’m going into it assuming they’re going to travel fine. I’m more worried about if we can quit turning the ball over 20 times a game than about where we play.
Q: What has been the effect of so many new players stepping into bigger roles on this year’s team?
A: I think we’re deeper than we have been, and we have more variety of skills and strengths than we have had in a while. Now it’s getting them to learn each other’s strengths and rely on them and create opportunities for each other. I think that’s true any time you add new players to big roles. I feel like they aren’t complimenting each other’s playing styles yet.
Q: What is the biggest area of improvement remaining for this team as you creep closer to conference play?
A: We have to rebound better. Our other biggest concern is our ability to create shots for each other. Our players are having to create a lot of their own shots, and good teams don’t create shots, good teams create shots for each other.