Coach’s Corner: Pat Manning, women’s basketball

Kent Barbir

(Photo courtesy of Sports Information.)

The Record publishes “Coach’s Corner” interviews to give readers the chance to get to know the coaches of their favorite Eph teams. This week, we checked in with Pat Manning, head coach of women’s basketball. The Record sat down with Manning to discuss playing on the road, coaching five different sports, and riding a tractor around downtown Nashville.

Kent Barbir (KB): You were playing away this weekend against Middlebury — do you enjoy road trips? Or does it ever get tiring?

Pat Manning (PM): Actually, road trips are a great opportunity for our team to have even more team bonding time. It’s definitely more restricted this year. We’ll play the game [and] come back right away — there’s no stopping anywhere or anything like that. We just get food delivered to the bus. So it’s a little bit different. We did do a [team] trip—we went to Nashville in December. I just think it helps with team chemistry when you’re able to spend time together like that.

KB: How has the transition been back to a regular season after last year?

PM: We did have a couple games that we had to change because of COVID-19 cases, but it’s great to be playing again. Everyone really missed not having a season last year. We’re a very young team … we [only] have five returning players. But we just missed competing, we missed practicing every day and just spending time together, so we’ve felt really lucky this year that we are able to have a season and kind of get back to normal. It’s not totally normal, but we’re getting there.

KB: There were also some cancellations over break that you had to deal with, right?

PM: Yeah — we had to cancel one game in Nashville, and we’re going to make it up. We picked up Mitchell [College], a team from Connecticut. So we’ll play them in a couple of weeks. But we’ve been fortunate — there have been other teams that have had many games canceled. We also had to change our [Worcester Polytechnic Institute] game, but I hope to play that in February. So we’ve been lucky there. There have been other teams that have been really hit hard by COVID, and we’ve had a couple of incidents, but not as bad as other teams.

KB: I know you’re still midway through the season, but do you have a favorite moment from this year?

PM: This team is just fun to be around. I think it’s a very hardworking team, and I enjoy spending time with people that want to get better. They like to watch film and just really study the games, and that, to me, is so much fun. They’re very invested. We did a fun event in Nashville — it was called the “big green tractor ride.” It’s literally a tractor that pulls a flatbed [with] benches. It plays country music. You can dance — it was just fun. So it took us on an hour and a half tour around Nashville and we went down Broadway. That was fun because we weren’t able to go in anywhere. We had to have our meals at the hotel, outside, or in our rooms. So this was the one thing that we got to do that was outside and it was really enjoyable.

KB: Did you get to drive the tractor?

PM: No — somebody drives it and someone acts as a DJ. So players could request songs and they’d play popular country songs. And when we went down Broadway, we were able to stand on the benches, music was blasting, and I think it was quite a sight. So that was a fun day.

KB: Switching gears to a more long-term scale, I know you’ve been at Williams for a long time, but how have things changed at Williams or in college basketball since you started coaching?

PM: I think Williams has always attracted people that want to perform at a high level in all areas — academically, athletically, and in so many other ways. That hasn’t changed. One thing I’ve really enjoyed about Williams is the type of person that we get, the type of women that I’m able to coach — they are very dedicated and motivated. I think the talent level has definitely increased, especially across our conference. In the old days, you could look at our conference and your schedule and know which teams you were going to beat. There were more lopsided games. Now, I think our conference is so strong… The talent all across the board is so much higher.

KB: You’re the all-time winningest coach in Williams history, but do you have a favorite win in particular out of all of those?

PM: In 2013, we made it to the NCAA [Div. III] Final Four. They don’t [hold that event] anymore, but at that time, there was a consolation game — if you lost in the semis, you could still play in the consolation game the next day. We advanced to the Final Four along with Amherst, DePauw [University], and [University of] Wisconsin Whitewater. We lost a heartbreaker to DePauw who ended up winning the whole thing and went undefeated for the season, so we had to play Amherst in the consolation game. I had a very large senior class, and that was our fourth time playing Amherst that year — we had played them in the two games that we normally play, and we had played them in the finals of the [NESCAC] conference tournament. Our seniors knew that this was it — this was the end of their career. And we beat Amherst. I think those six seniors felt like they had won the national championship because they were able to end their career with a win over Amherst. So that’s one of the sweetest [wins] that we’ve had.

KB: I saw on your EphSports bio page that you’ve also coached volleyball and softball, but what made you stick with basketball for this long over the other sports?

PM: I coached softball at other schools. I didn’t coach it at Williams, but when I first was hired [here], I was hired as head volleyball and basketball coach. And I became a mom in 1998. I knew at that point, it was going to be hard to coach two sports. It was also [difficult] because our teams were really good, and we were qualifying for the NCAA tournament. So there was an overlap. I couldn’t coach both because I would have to miss the first weekend of basketball competition [due to volleyball]. I love volleyball, so I really enjoyed coaching it, but there’s something about basketball. I just think it’s such a great game, and there’s so much excitement. It’s just something about it. It’s kind of been my favorite sport, I think, all along.

KB: Are there any other sports you’ve played or coached in the past?

PM: I coached JV field hockey at Williams. I’ve [also] coached tennis, but basketball’s definitely number one.

KB: Wow, that’s a lot. When you’re not coaching, what do you do in your free time?

PM: I love to travel. COVID has put a damper on that, obviously, but I love spending time with family and we go to the Cape every summer. I’m really looking forward to this summer, hopefully being able to get back out there and do some trips.

KB: Like recruiting trips?

PM: We definitely do recruiting trips — that’s a big part of the summer, but my daughter’s just moved to Virginia, so I want to go explore Virginia with her over spring break. And then in the summer — I was all set in the summer of 2020 to go with this organization that sponsors summer trips to Europe, and I was supposed to take a group of college athletes to Spain. And that was all canceled. So fingers crossed that that will be on for this summer.

KB: That sounds like a lot of fun. Is there anything else you want to add?

PM: I really enjoy coaching this team, I’m really proud of the work that they do every day, and I just feel lucky to have this job. I love being able to be at Williams and coach such high-quality people. I really enjoy teaching P.E. too — I teach a wellness class and [enjoy] getting to know students that may have never played a sport in their life and just want to be introduced to different sports or different ways to maintain fitness. It’s a great place, and I really enjoy the work that I do.