Long ago, even as she sat on the bench at one of the most successful women’s basketball programs in NCAA Division II at Western Washington University, Jennifer Childress had her eye on one particular head coaching job.
Pacific Lutheran University.
And when it came open last spring after Kelly Robinson resigned after six seasons, Childress wasted no time in trying to get into the Lutes’ system.
Childress interviewed and was hired last April to take over at PLU. The Lutes are 3-4 so far in her first season.
She brings along not only a reputation as a fine teacher of the game, but also is known to be a savvy scout and recruiter of basketball talent.
“She is a great person,” said Carmen Dolfo, in her 23rd season as head coach at Western. “And she understands basketball.”
Childress was a three-sport athlete at Sehome High School (1987 graduate), Wenatchee Valley College (1989) and George Fox University (1992).
In 1995, she broke into coaching directing the Meridian High program. She spent six seasons there before leaving to become a volunteer assistant under Dolfo at Western.
Childress left after the 2001-02 season to become the head assistant coach at Cal State-San Bernardino before returning to Western in 2006.
While the Vikings’ associate head coach from 2006-12, she was also the recruiting coordinator and brought aboard much of the talent the Vikings had during last season’s run to the NCAA semifinals.
Childress took a sabbatical from coaching while the Vikings made their run but jumped at the opportunity to go to PLU, which had made six NAIA and NCAA Division III national tournament appearances during coach Gil Rigell’s tenure (1997-2007).
“PLU had been in my sights for a while,” Childress said. “My ultimate goal was to always be a head coach and I’ve always respected the university. And the timing was right.”
The Lutes went 6-17 last season in Robinson’s final year, but returned 12 players off that team.
“Relating to the past, the thing I noticed was confidence,” Childress said. “I watched a lot of film (of last year’s games) and saw a snowball effect. One mistake would be made, and then another and another, and suddenly a six-point game was a 16-point (deficit).”
Childress has seen a more composed and mature team in the early going this season.
“What we say right now is ‘mature mistake management,’ ” she said. “If we make a mistake, it is nothing we are dwelling on.”
PACIFIC LUTHERAN LUTES
Coach: Steve Dickerson, eighth season (74-102 record).
2012-13 season: 8-17, 6-10 in Northwest Conference (sixth place).
Preseason coaches’ poll: Seventh place.
Starting five: PG Brandon Lester, 5-11, fr.; SG Daniel Landram, 6-0, jr.; SF Arvid Isaksen, 6-2, sr.; PF Seth Anderson, 6-6, so.; C Bryce Miller, 6-6, so.
Key reserves: PG Terrell Williams, 6-0, jr.; SF Johnny Tveter, 6-3, sr.; PF Kai Hoyt, 6-4, sr.; C Austen Wilson, 6-7, jr.
Player to watch: Isaksen, a Lake Stevens High School product, is a jack-of-all-trades player with off-the-charts leadership qualities — some of the best Dickerson has seen in his 40 years of coaching. After serving as the sixth man last season, this is Isaksen’s first year of full-time duty.
Skinny: If you don’t know by now, it’s not all that fun to play the Lutes twice during conference season. They will trade athleticism for toughness, and now have quality big men to clog the lane in Miller, Wilson and Garth West. PLU has found a gem of a playmaker in Lester, a small point guard with a knack for hitting big shots. His ball-handling has also allowed Landram and Williams to focus less on running the offense and more on making scoring plays. The team will wear a patch on its uniforms this season honoring the late Marv Harshman, who coached at PLU from 1945-58.
NWC schedule (all games 8 p.m. unless noted): Jan. 3 vs. George Fox (Ore.); Jan. 4 vs. Lewis & Clark (Ore.); Jan. 10 at Whitworth; Jan. 11 at Whitman, 6 p.m.; Jan. 14 at Puget Sound; Jan. 18 at Pacific (Ore.); Jan. 24 vs. Linfield (Ore.); Jan. 25 vs. Willamette (Ore.); Jan. 31 at Lewis & Clark; Feb. 1 at George Fox; Feb. 7 vs. Whitman; Feb. 8 vs. Whitworth, 6 p.m.; Feb. 11 vs. Puget Sound; Feb. 14 vs. Pacific; Feb. 21 at Willamette; Feb. 22 at Linfield.
Coach: Jennifer Childress, first season (3-4 record).
2012-13 season: 6-17, 3-13 in NWC (seventh place).
Preseason coaches’ poll: Eighth place.
Starting five: PG Megan Abdo, 5-7, so.; SG Sarah Barnes, 5-9, so.; SF Shelly Kilcup, 5-8, jr.; PF Katelyn Smith, 6-0, sr.; C Samantha Potter, 5-10, sr.
Key reserves: PG Andrea Adams, 5-7, so.; SG Kara Sherman, 5-6, jr.; PF Chrissy Swope, 6-0, sr.
Player to watch: Even if it is for just one season, Childress is going to enjoy watching Potter go to work on the low block. A two-time, all-NWC second-team performer, Potter has the sheer strength to move taller players away from her to create space to score and rebound.
Skinny: With 12 players returning, the cupboard certainly wasn’t bare for Childress, a former Western Washington University assistant who replaces Kelly Robinson. And after watching a lot of film on past games, Childress immediately made improving ball-handling an offseason priority. Abdo, an Arlington product, has taken ownership of that, too — and once the Lutes get upcourt, they have Potter, Smith (who looks much healthier after a serious knee injury in 2012) and Kilcup as scoring threats in the frontcourt. Kilcup is back after taking last season off, and she will also shift to shooting guard if Childress decides to field a bigger lineup.
NWC schedule (all games 6 p.m. unless noted): Jan. 3 vs. George Fox (Ore.); Jan. 4 vs. Lewis & Clark (Ore.); Jan. 10 at Whitworth; Jan. 11 at Whitman, 4 p.m.; Jan. 14 at Puget Sound; Jan. 18 at Pacific (Ore.); Jan. 24 vs. Linfield (Ore.); Jan. 25 vs. Willamette (Ore.); Jan. 31 at Lewis & Clark; Feb. 1 at George Fox; Feb. 7 vs. Whitman; Feb. 8 vs. Whitworth, 4 p.m.; Feb. 11 vs. Puget Sound; Feb. 14 vs. Pacific; Feb. 21 at Willamette; Feb. 22 at Linfield.Todd Milles: 253-597-8442 todd.milles@ thenewstribune.com @ManyHatsMilles firstname.lastname@example.org