- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 13, 2002

Bill Finney didn't always coach the way he does now.

For most of his first 17 years as Marymount University women's basketball coach, Finney fit the typical mode of a college coach. He was a stern, discipline-oriented leader who could hardly sit down during a game and would not hesitate to lace into his players if he thought it was warranted.

And then there was the running. If his team did not perform a drill right or run a play correctly, the players would hit the stairs or run sprints also both staples in many programs. When current Marymount sophomore Gen Schmitt came to watch a Saints practice on a recruiting trip as a high school player, she remembers being surprised by all the running the Saints did.

Now, however, Finney's coaching style has changed. Over the last two seasons, he has not made the Saints run even one sprint, and practice time is devoted to drill repetitions, working in new offensive and defensive sets and film study but no running.

Make no mistake, though the Saints still have their legs. On Friday, they will play Wisconsin-Stevens Point in the Division III NCAA tournament women's Final Four in Terre Haute, Ind., the program's first such appearance and the first in any sport for the school. Marymount, which has dominated the Capital Athletic conference since its inception in 1990, finally will get its shot on a national stage.

Finney has built a formidable program in 19 seasons at the Arlington school. He has averaged 19 wins per season, entered the 2001-02 campaign with the 12th most victories among active Division III coaches and the Saints made their sixth NCAA Sweet 16 appearance this season. His teams led Division III in scoring in 1993 and 1994, and his 1997 team lost just once before the NCAAs and featured the National Player of the Year, Cori Carson. Most impressive, however, might be the approach he has developed during his career.

After spending several years coaching in the 1970s in New York high schools, Finney applied for the vacant Marymount job in the spring of 1983, when it was a part-time position. In his early coaching years, he showed the same intensity he had while lettering three years at Syracuse, and his teams found success. But gradually he has changed.

"It's about lightening the load," Finney said. "Before, I always tightened the screw a little tighter [throughout a season], but now we've loosened it up. We want kids to say, 'I like coming to practice.'"

That is, when his players could make it to practice. Early in the season, the Saints had so many injuries that they could only dress seven healthy players in early December. They persevered, and behind first-team All-Capital Athletic Conference selection Candice Brown, who averages a team-best 15.7 points, finished 24-6 after a 3-3 start.

Family has remained a major factor throughout Finney's coaching life. His wife of 30 years, Judy, has been the athletic department's sports information director for the last five years. One of their twin daughters, Cathy, played at Marymount from 1992 to 1995; the other, Christie, played at Georgia Tech. Both still come to Saints games and offer suggestions to their father.

The newest family member might have done the most to change Bill Finney, when Cathy's son, Patrick, was born three years ago. Finney's players say Patrick's birth has "mellowed him out," and Finney is quick to echo that. "I said, 'You know what? He doesn't need to be yelled at,'" Finney said.

His players, who collectively carry a 3.2 grade point average, said Finney's endless hours of preparation his breaking down of game tape and accurate advance scouting makes things easier for them. That doesn't stop them from teasing him good-naturedly, from his wardrobe to his inability to work the VCR when they sit down to watch tape

Finney said he has a basic philosophy about life: work as hard as you can, but don't expect much. Then, someday, "your basket will overflow." And that's the way he looks at this season the work he and his players have put in over 18 seasons came to fruition.

"That's why it's so gratifying," he said.

Said Brown: "He's had so many teams, and we're taking him to the Final Four. To know it was us to be the first team to put it together …"

Not that the season is over by any means. The Saints avenged regular-season losses to Salisbury and King's College by beating both in NCAA tournament games at Salisbury last weekend despite playing without starting guard Kristin McGrory, who suffered a knee injury in the first-round game.

No matter; with Finney at the helm, the Saints not surprisingly are going in loose.

"We have nothing to lose," said junior Jodie Knotts. "It's not that we're overconfident, but we just have two more games to go."

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