Volume 43 | Number 2 | Fall 2013

Hoops Commander

Fall 2013 Issue | By David Driver

ISU grad leads Midshipmen on Quest for Three-peat

Former ISU basketball standout Stephanie Pemper, in her fifth season as the head coach of the women's team at the U.S. Naval Academy, was nearing the end of a practice earlier this season when she called together several upperclassmen.

"I pulled the juniors and I had something critical to say of Jade (Geif, a forward) in front of them," says Pemper, who was inducted into the ISU Athletic Hall of Fame in 2003. "Alix (Membreno, a guard) matter-of-factly said, 'Feedback is good. You are a good coach and you just gave us feedback.' She took the emotion out of it. It was awesome."

Pemper shared the story as an example of what she appreciates about coaching at Navy, which plays in the academically-challenging Division I Patriot League.

"I like how they are so proud here. I love the diversity of our team, personally, geographically, racially, educationally and socioeconomically," she notes. "That part is really rewarding. I continue to love how the whole school helps me do my job and train these women. Respecting authority and respecting leadership are among the player traits."

Navy has certainly been successful on the court under Pemper, who led the Midshipmen to Patriot League tournament titles in 2011 and 2012. She began the 2012-13 season with a lifetime mark of 71-55 at Navy after a 10-year run as the head coach at Division III Bowdoin in Maine.

Navy had just one winning record in the eight years before Pemper arrived in the spring of 2008.

"I heard some really nice things this summer about the program," says Pemper, who can be seen riding a motorcycle on the Navy campus. "It is really nice. I am very happy for the women. They are incredibly proud of the work they have put in. I don't think it could be healthier in any way."

So how did someone who grew up in Huntington Beach, California end up at ISU?

"I wanted to get out of state, I wanted to play Division I and get a scholarship," she recalls. "They were the first to offer. I had some really good professors who were really just available and nurturing, to be honest."

On the court she was the only junior in the starting lineup on a team with seven seniors. One of her best memories is beating Boise State and earning a trip to the conference tournament. One of her assistant coaches was Nancy Graziano, now the associate athletic director/senior woman administrator at ISU.

She was an all-Big Sky Conference player as a junior and senior and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications in 1992 and later received a Master's of Physical Education/Athletic Administration in 1997.

Pemper began her coaching career as a graduate assistant at Alaska-Anchorage in 1992-93, then spent two seasons at ISU as an assistant. She became an assistant at Harvard in 1995 and then was named the head coach at Bowdoin in 1998. In 2004, she led the Maine school to a record of 30-1 and a spot in the Division III title game and was tabbed as the WBCA NCAA Division III coach of the year.

While recruiting at Navy can be challenging with its military commitments after graduation, Pemper has discovered side benefits as well.

Pemper said several of her players seek out the strength and conditioning staff at the school, not just for basketball but because they want to join the Marines and have to excel on the obstacle course. "At no other school would that happen," Pemper says. "There is a sense of community: when one of the freshmen messes up, a junior thinks it is her fault. It is pretty cool that they take that responsibility."

Editor's note: David Driver is a freelance writer who has covered college basketball for more than 20 years and has contributed to Basketball Times, The Associated Press and The Washington Post. He can be reached at www.davidsdriver.com.