Legendary coach Bob Hurley of St. Anthony’s in Jersey City is often asked why he does not move up to the college ranks. He always replies, “I am a high school coach.” Union County College women’s basketball coach Cheryl Bell can relate because she is a big proponent of a junior college education. JUCO worked for her and is working for the young women at the Cranford campus.
You probably never heard of Bell, but the head coach for the Union County College Owls women’s basketball team is quickly building a dynasty at the Cranford Campus. How? By winning. With an 11-0 record this year, the Lady Owls are looking to three-peat as the Garden State Athletic Conference and Region XVIIII champs.
In the past two seasons, Bell has lead UCC to a 53-14 record; tack on this years eleven wins, and it’s clear that her team is running like a well oiled machine. “We definitely have a team concept and hard-nose defense,” said Bell. A recipe of defense and a deep rotation with ten to eleven players, allows the Lady Owls to win by attrition. “That is the biggest compliment I get from other coaches — how deep our team is,” said the fifth-year coach.
This year’s team is lead by sophomore Kianna Williamson, the team’s top scorer with 14 points per game. A big recruit for Bell is freshman 6’3” Crystal Harris, who is filling up the stat sheet with 13 points per game, 12 rebounds and 2.4 blocks. Division I transfer Bobbi Van Fleet is averaging 12 points and 10 rebounds per game. Martyna Ruminska is the team’s three point threat and both Nicole Lilenfeld and Courtney Larson are also averaging just less than ten points to complete the wining formula for Bell and the Owls.
Coach Bell can relate to her players because she too wore the UCC uniform during 1989 and 1990 seasons. She attributes her determination and drive from her mother who was a single mother raising seven kids.
Working as a full time teacher at Science High School in Newark, Bell was an assistant from 1994-1999 at UCC and an assistant at Caldwell College for three years after that. This is Bell’s fifth year at UCC and every year the team has improved. How? By selling recruits on how JUCO can help a player.
Bell has two players that accepted Division I scholarships and decided to attend UCC after changing their mind. Courtney Lawson attended University of New Hampshire and Bobbi Van Fleet attended Binghamton. “When I was recruiting them I always told the benefits of what JUCO can do for them” said Bell. She looks for players that fall under the radar of bigger programs.
The success at UCC has encouraged four-year colleges to come in and recruit Bell’s players. Marbely Montas is playing for Division I Monmouth. “I remember clearly Marbely telling me that she was not a good student now at Monmouth she has a 3.6 GPA,” said the Owls mentor. This is the intangible that Bell brings to her team.
Bell’s coaching style is very little x’s and o’s and more on fundamentals and letting the players play. Two goals that Bell has for this year’s team are to winning the region and move on to the nationals. The stumbling block the last two years was Rhode Island Community College, a JUCO powerhouse that has beaten the Region XVIIII champ the past five years.
Jim Whelan can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org
Connect with NJTODAY.NET
Join NJTODAY.NET's free Email List to receive occasional updates delivered right to your email address!