StorrsCentral - Former Husky Carla Berube makes the jump to Division 1 head coach
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Former Husky Carla Berube makes the jump to Division 1 head coach

Photo Credit: Princeton Athletic Communications
Photo Credit: Princeton Athletic Communications

PRINCETON, NJ — When the head coaching position at Princeton opened up, Carla Berube reached out to her former college head coach, Geno Auriemma, for advice and guidance.

His response was simple: “that’s perfect.”

Berube, who played for four years under Auriemma at UConn, winning the 1995 national championship, had spent the last 17 years as the head coach at Tufts, a program that she turned into a Division 3 perennial powerhouse.

Last week, Princeton Director of Athletics Molly Marcoux Samaan officially introduced Berube as the next head coach of Princeton women’s basketball. Berube takes over for Courtney Banghart, who accepted the same position with the University of North Carolina after leading the Tigers to seven Ivy League championships and eight NCAA Tournament berths in 12 years at the helm.

As Berube made her statement and answered questions from the media, she exuded the same characteristics that she had as a player: calm, poised, and confident. It’s rare for a coach to come into a new position with a program that is setup to win now, but that’s the position that Berube finds herself in.

For some, the expectations alone may have pushed some towards not pursuing the position, but Berube revels in it. “I just know how to win,” she said during her press conference, with a sense of confidence that breeds and cultivates a winning culture.

The winning truly began during her time at Oxford High School in Massachusetts, where she helped guide her team to back-to-back state championships. The winning continued at UConn, as Berube helped Auriemma and the Huskies compile a 132-8 record, including winning the national championship in 1995. Since then, the Huskies have gone on to win 10 more national championships.

Berube had a brief stint as an assistant coach at Providence College and then took over at Tufts and kept on winning. She led the Jumbos to a 384-96 record, three NESCAC championships, four straight Final Fours, and two straight national championship games.

While Berube has become an extremely successful college coach, it took being away from the game for her to realize how much she missed it. “I was living out in California after I stopped playing, and was not in coaching, or a part of basketball at all, and I really, really missed it.” After doing some volunteer coaching at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Berube “fell in love with it.”

One thing Berube noted yesterday was that Auriemma might be surprised by the career path she’s chosen. “If you ask [Geno], he can’t believe I became a coach.”

While Auriemma may have not seen this coming 25 years ago, he sees it now. He played a major role in helping Berube get involved with USA Basketball, in which she led the U-17 USA team to FIBA World Cup gold in 2018. Also, shortly after the job became available, Samaan received a phone call in support of Berube’s candidacy. The call was from Auriemma.

When Samaan spoke with him, he told her a story about Berube, that he told reporters back at the Final Four in 2016, just days before Berube’s Tufts team was to play for the D-III national championship:

“I singled her out to shoot the two free throws that iced the game in the National Championship Game her sophomore year, and we had Jen Rizzotti and Jamelle Elliott and Rebecca Lobo and Nykesha Sales and Kara Wolters. And I'm not surprised.” He went on to say, “For her to be a really good coach, I'm not surprised because she's really competitive, she's very bright, she's a tough kid.”

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Surrounded by Princeton supporters and a few members of the media, you could sense her competitive nature and eagerness to get started when talking specifically about basketball, her players, and her connection to them. “The (student-athletes) I’ve been able to talk to and have met are incredible--they’re exceptional, exceptional people--and I can’t wait to get started with them.”

Berube, who’s already been on the court leading camps, is most comfortable there--on the court doing what she loves.

Berube beamed with confidence and a sense of “laser focus” when talking about her passion for defense and teaching defense. “It’s player-to-player, man-to-man, for 40 minutes. Putting pressure on the ball-handler, getting into the passing lanes, just wreaking havoc.” It was like she could have taken any five people in the room and taught them how to defend at an elite level on the spot. Her Tufts teams were known nationally for their defensive prowess, as they were regularly ranked in the top-5 in scoring defense.

One could also sense her confidence and focus when talking about the types of players she looks for and loves to coach: “Passionate basketball players, that have a high motor on both ends of the floor” In watching her coach, while a calm sense of confidence and focus are at her core, she has fun doing it, and never loses focus of what she gained as a student-athlete at UConn.

“You’re a product of your environment,” she claimed. For Berube, throughout her basketball life, as both a player and coach, she’s has been influenced by her experiences. Most notably, at UConn, where she learned about what it takes to develop a successful program.

“(Auriemma) gets the most out of his players. You go in there thinking you can do this and he takes you to here (motioning higher.) I hope I do that with my players as well.” Berube also learned about hard work and drive: “How driven you need to be and how hard you need to work. A lot of things off the court, too, (like) how important relationships are.”

For Princeton, they are getting a coach who knows how to win, knows how to build a program, is a great teacher of basketball, understands and connects strongly to the school and its mission of ‘education through athletics,’ but perhaps most importantly, is someone who will build and cultivate relationships.

When asked if her relationship with her former coach might get UConn on Princeton’s non-conference schedule, she simply replied, “we’ll see.”

The reply was calm and confident, accompanied by a slight grin. If they do ever play, one thing is for certain: Coach Berube and the Tigers will be ready.