by Denise Alexander
Members of the 2002 Final Four team celebrate Candice Brown’s induction into the MU Athletics Hall of Fame. (l to r): Annetta Benjamin ’04, Ashlee Courter ’03, Candice Brown ’02, Coach Bill Finney, Angie Ferri ’04, and Katie Jarvis ’04
Marymount Director of Athletics and Women’s Basketball Coach Bill Finney could easily point to 26 seasons as a head coach with 525 wins and counting as a successful career. But for Coach Finney, the definition of success is not found primarily in the win-loss columns, but in the knowledge that he’s been instrumental in guiding hundreds of student-athletes to excel in something that they were passionate about.
Coach Finney says, “I’ve always told all my players to figure out what they want to do, work hard to get there, and do it. Naturally, I feel a sense of pride that some of these kids have gone on to become coaches themselves.”
Candice Brown ’02 and Ashlee Courter ’03 are two great examples. Members of the 2002 Saints team that went all the way to the Division III Final Four tournament, Candice and Ashlee are now college head coaches who credit lessons learned under Bill Finney as integral to their coaching philosophies, even as they’ve developed their own personal styles.
During her playing career, Candice Brown captained her MU team and was twice named First Team Kodak All American, a prestigious collegiate basketball honor.
After graduation, she spent two years at Southern New Hampshire University as an assistant coach, while earning her master’s degree in Sports Administration. Candice then returned to Marymount as an assistant basketball coach; soon, Bill Finney recommended her for the head coaching job at Manhattanville College. Three successful seasons there have led to an exciting new opportunity for Candice Brown: Starting this fall, she will be assistant athletic director and head coach of the women’s basketball team at Vassar College.
At Manhattanville, Candice coached with the same intensity she once demonstrated as a player. She was named 2009 Coach of the Year for the Middle Atlantic Conference, Freedom Division, in recognition of her team’s consistent improvement – an honor that is clearly borne out by her record. Candice explains, “My first year we went 7-19; year two was 13-12; and this season, we went 18-11. We headed into the tournament as the second seed, and only lost to DeSales University in the championship game.”
As much as she enjoys the thrill of victory, Candice embraces Coach Finney’s guiding principle that you have to care about the person first, before you even think about the game. She says, “A commitment to the individual really maximizes potential on all levels, including on the court. Everyone who knows me, especially my players, knows that I am very intense because I believe that basketball is a vehicle that can take people to exciting places. I expect my players to work hard for 40 minutes, to play the game with passion. And I believe that commitment will transfer to other areas of their lives.”
Ashlee Courter followed a similar path. A five-year MU team member due to a season-ending injury in her freshman year, Ashlee was also a starter on the 2002 Final Four team. After her graduation, Bill Finney put in a good word with the coach at Gettsyburg College, and Ashlee was hired there as an assistant coach. She coached at Gettysburg while earning her master’s degree in Special Education at nearby McDaniel College. When the head coaching job at Franklin and Marshall opened up, Ashlee knew who she could count on. She says, “Coach Finney was a big advocate for me in the interview process.”
Ashlee is now headed into her fourth year as a head coach, with her F&M team finishing second this past season in the Centennial Conference. She is also in the unique position of being the youngest coach in her conference, having become a head coach at the tender age of 24!
Ashlee credits Bill Finney with her decision to enter coaching. She says, “The coach that I am today comes directly from the experiences and lessons I learned at MU. I consider Coach Finney my closest mentor because he has always been supportive of me in all facets of coaching. He is very knowledgeable about the game and has an infectious passion that comes out in his team’s play.”
But, Ashlee continues, “With Coach Finney, it’s about so much more than basketball. He taught us life lessons through this game. I can still hear him saying ‘You don’t take short cuts; you do things the right way and do them with everything you have.’ That’s one of the many things I am trying to instill into my players.”
Despite all the accolades for their Marymount mentor, Coach Brown and Coach Courter aren’t above enjoying a little healthy competition with Coach Finney. Although their teams all play in different conferences, the three have faced off in tournaments. To date, the pupils haven’t been able to defeat the old Master.
For Bill Finney, the real satisfaction came when he watched his former players square off against each other in the 2008 MU Holiday Classic. He reflects, “I just sat back and watched Candice and Ashlee. In their coaching, they’ve incorporated a lot of what we do here at Marymount, but they have also developed their own styles and systems. Ashlee is very composed, almost graceful in her coaching, while Candice attacks the game with high intensity and energy. For both, you could see that it’s more than a job; this is something they’ve been passionate about all of their lives. It was a proud moment for me.”
The most recent rookie in the growing network of Marymount-trained coaches is Carolyn Riley, who graduated this past May with a B.S. in Health Sciences. Bill Finney recalls recruiting Carolyn for the Saints, and hearing her say that her ultimate goal was to be a college coach. He says, “I told her, ‘Come to Marymount; we’ll work on it.’”
Coach Finney was true to his word. Carolyn will start next season as a graduate assistant coach for the Virginia Commonwealth University women’s basketball team. She will also be pursuing a graduate degree in Sports Leadership, with an emphasis in Coaching, at VCU.
And there may be more head coaches in the wings. Recent graduates and former players Stephanie Witko and C.K. Calhoun are now pacing the MU sideline as assistant coaches for the Saints.
One thing is certain: Bill Finney’s legacy as a coach and mentor continues to grow. Candice Brown, who was recently inducted into Marymount’s Athletics Hall of Fame, says, “Coach Finney treats his players like an extended family, teaching them life skills through the game of basketball. That was my playing experience and now it’s my coaching philosophy.”
Ashlee Courter seconds that, saying, “When I heard that Candice was being honored, I got in touch with other members of our Final Four starting line-up, and nearly all were able to attend the ceremony. We are proud of one another’s accomplishments, and we couldn’t imagine being anywhere else that night. That relationship is really a tribute to Coach Finney. We are so much more than teammates; we are family, thanks to him.”