Wake Forest Sports Under Ron Wellman: Part VIII - Women's Basketball

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

No, I haven't abandoned this yet. Welcome to Part VIII of this ongoing series, wherein I examine the Wake women's basketball program's performance under Ron Wellman.

For those new to this series, a brief recap: I am attempting to sift through the rhetoric used by the pro- and anti-Wellman camps to figure out what his strengths and weaknesses are vis-a-vis our athletic programs. I do this by looking at the previous decade (for women's basketball, this will be the seasons from 1983-84 through 1992-93) and comparing them to the yearly results of the team since, while also focusing on general trends using rolling 4 year averages separated by individual coaches. The hope of this is to figure out what Wellman has improved (a lot) and what has declined under him (so far, really just the men's cross country program).

***** Index *****

Part I - Football

Part II - Volleyball

Part III - Men's Soccer

Part IV - Women's Soccer

Part V - Men's and Women's Cross Country

Part VI - Field Hockey

Part VII - Men's Basketball

***** Program Overview *****

It's a fairly well-known fact that the Wake men's basketball team carries a stigma of relative underachieving come March. Despite producing some excellent teams over the years, the Deacs have only one Final Four appearance and only four ACC Tournament titles.

The Wake women's basketball team, despite having moderate success over the years (a .528 winning percentage from 1983-84 through 1992-93), has been to only one NCAA Tournament (1987-88). Ever.

Obviously, comparing the programs like this is comparing apples to oranges to a certain degree. But, as you'll see, Wake's second best women's coach ever was Mike Peterson, who compiled a .504 winning percentage (.281 in ACC play) and jilted the Deacs for North Texas.

Men's soccer or field hockey, this ain't.

I mentioned above that the Deacs registered a winning percentage of .528 during the decade that I'm using as a benchmark (1983-84 through 1992-93). In truth, this probably rates as the most successful decade in Wake women's basketball history. And the collective conference winning percentage during this period is .299, which falls just below what I consider minimum acceptability in ACC play for any program. (When reviewing volleyball, I gave the program a .300 winning percentage for this reason.)

For sure, the Deacs' best ever season came during 1987-88: the best record (23-8), the only conference season in program history above .500 (9-5), and the only NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament appearance (a 53-51 win over Villanova followed by the wrong end of a 94-66 clubbing by Tennessee). While he had other success, this season alone pretty much certifies Joe Sanchez as the best coach in program history.

Prior to Sanchez's arrival for the 1985-86 season, Wake had had one coach last for more than three seasons. Wanda Briley took over prior to the 1979-80 season, and gradually built the Deacs from a bottom-feeder into a .500 team. Briley finished with a .425 winning percentage over her 7 seasons, but won only .129 of her ACC games.

Sanchez capitalized on Briley's momentum, building regularly competitive teams. Five of his seven teams finished above .500 overall, and he collectively won .540 of his games (and .330 of his conference games). Neither of those marks has been remotely challenged since.

After Sanchez left (resigned? fired? left of his own volition? - if anyone can recall, I can't seem to find any info online), one of former AD Gene Hooks' last decisions was to hire Karen Freeman for the 1992-93 season. Freeman would coach that season and the first four seasons under Wellman, compiling a .423 winning percentage (.250 in conference) overall before leaving for an assistant position with the WNBA's Charlotte Sting.

Wellman chose Charlene Curtis to replace Freeman for the 1997-98 season. To some extent, Curtis was the proto-Bzdelik: bottoming out in Year 1 (4-23 overall, 0-16 in conference) before gradually building the program back up to Freeman's level. Curtis's best year was 2002-03, when the Deacs went 13-15 (.464) overall and 3-13 (.188) in ACC play. Again, that's the best season; unlike Bzdelik, Curtis lasted for 7 seasons, with a cumulative .342 winning percentage (.234 in conference).

Enter Mike Peterson. If Sanchez is unquestionably the best coach in program history, then Peterson is unquestionably number 2. While he did not take the Deacs to the NCAA Tournament, he did take the team to four Women's NIT appearances, the program's first postseason tournament since 1987-88. As mentioned above, Peterson compiled a .504 winning percentage overall (.281 in ACC games). And then, for whatever reason, he left for North Texas.

I repeat: Wake lost the second best coach in program history to North Texas. I don't think it gets much worse than that.

(The women's soccer program lost the second best coach in program history to Forsyth Country Day, a high school, but the women's soccer program has also only ever had two coaches, so Chris Turner's spot there is mostly by default.)

Anyway, Wellman replaced Peterson with Jen Hoover née Mitchell, who played under Sanchez in the late 80's. Hoover has only coached two seasons, but signs are somewhat promising - she has managed to hold her own in ACC play (her winning percentage is actually above Peterson's cumulative mark right now) and has posted a respectable overall winning percentage .444 for her first two seasons. It will be interesting to see if Hoover can maintain this momentum going forward, or whether her performance thus far is residual from the strong finish to Peterson's tenure.

Graph time!


Let's start, as usual, by looking at year-by-year results for overall performance.


A quick reminder: the silver line represents the separation between the Gene Hooks era and the Ron Wellman era. The results to the left of the line help form the baseline by which the results to the right of the line are measured.

Here, we see the problems with women's basketball manifest: success in the 80's (including the spike of the 1987-88 season) that hasn't consistently carried forth since. Note also the nadir being Curtis' first season, with her gradually building a comparatively respectable but not super-successful program. In fact, the high point of her tenure was probably Peterson's first year, which is the data point right at the yellow line (.531 winning percentage in Peterson's first season).

Here are the conference results over the same period:


First, note that the average in the previous decade was actually .299, but I refuse to use a baseline worse than .300. That .299 average is the lowest conference average for any sport thus far (football was at .304, and volleyball was - somewhat arbitrarily - assigned .300).

Second, note that by and large the women's program has failed to hit even that low standard. In fact, of Wellman's 21 seasons in charge, the women's program was won 30% of its conference games only a third of the time, and two of those seven seasons featured winning percentages of .313. While the ACC has traditionally been a strong women's basketball conference, it hasn't been stronger than its field hockey or women's soccer counterparts, and Wake has managed okay in those (.464 in field hockey, .468 in women's soccer; for contrast, women's basketball under Wellman is at .244).

I guess third, you can note that Wake has had seasons of 1-15 (Sanchez's final season in 1991-92), 0-14 (Peterson's third season in 2006-07), and 0-16 (Curtis' first season in 1997-98). Yikes.



The four year average graphs tell roughly the same story: an upwards trend under Briley, a peak under Sanchez followed by regression during the end of his tenure, inability of Freeman to replicate Sanchez's success but nothing resembling disaster, Curtis bottoming out and then building, followed by Peterson having initial success, then a downswing, then more sustained success, and lastly Hoover showing a solid start to her coaching career.

The one thing I would note in particular is that Curtis - a la Jim Caldwell or (potentially) Bzdelik - never had success herself, but seemingly primed the program to succeed in the years following her dismissal.

(The counterpoint to this is that Curtis' highest four year average is about on par with the lowest marks for her predecessor and successor. If the best you can do is about even with the worst of everyone else, then that doesn't make you look good.)

Let's look at the overall program graphs during the Wellman years.


Here we have the cumulative winning percentage graph, and it is pretty much the exact opposite of the men's program. The men registered a strong start under Dave Odom and have consistently trended downwards while still staying well above the 1983-84 to 1992-93 average.

The women have consistently trended upwards, but are still nowhere near the average in question. I guess it's up to you the reader as to whether you prefer improvement towards mediocrity or decline from greatness. Should make for some interesting discussion in the comments.

If you're wondering, the current win percentage under Wellman is at .429, which is the highest it has been.


I guess kinda the same deal, except this is just depressing. How can you not win 30% of your games over a prolonged period of time? How can you not even come close to winning 30% of your games over a prolonged period of time.

The current mark is .244 (the early peak was under Freeman and was .271). To reach the .300 standard, the Deacs would need to go 28-4 the next two seasons in ACC play.



Here are the same graphs, separated by coach.

I guess the big thing to note here is that Hoover - at least right now - appears to be a keeper. She's already proven to be comparatively successful in conference play (her .294 average is the highest of the four) and her overall percentage is healthy enough. Again, it's only two years, but the future seems bright.

Now let's look at the net wins, and as you've probably guessed, there are some big negative numbers in play:


We're currently at an all-time low under Wellman, at -61.2 wins against expected, which is almost -3 wins worse than expected per season. Not good.


The conference graph isn't quite so severe, but the damage checks in at -18.2 wins against expected (and again, the expected is based on that low .300 win percentage). The worst figure was a -24.6 total after 2007-08, but Peterson's strong finish pushed that total upwards some.



And here we see what you've probably already guessed: most of the damage in both the overall (-36.5) and conference (-12.6) totals comes from Curtis.

Peterson got down to -8.8 conference wins against expected, but finished at -2.2.

Hoover through two seasons is at -5.3 overall and -0.2 in conference.

***** Summation *****


Proj. Record: 72.3-64.7 (24-56)

Actual Record: 58-79 (20-60)

Net: -14.3 (-4.0)

Proj. Record under Wellman: 57.6-51.4 (19.2-44.8)

Actual Record under Wellman: 44-65 (16-48)

Net: -13.6 (-3.2)


Proj. Record: 103.5-92.5 (33.6-78.4)

Actual Record: 67-129 (21-91)

Net: -36.5 (-12.6)


Proj. Record: 130.9-117.1 (34.2-79.8)

Actual Record: 125-123 (32-82)

Net: -5.9 (-2.2)


Proj. Record: 33.3-29.7 (10.2-23.8)

Actual Record: 28-35 (10-24)

Net: -5.3 (-0.2)


Proj. Record: 325.2-290.8 (97.2-226.8)

Actual Record: 264-352 (79-245)

Net: -61.2 (-18.2)

***** Analysis *****

As far as I can tell, the argument against Wake having a successful women's basketball program basically boils down to "Because it's always been that way." And while tradition and facilities matter for recruiting (and women's basketball has much more of its power concentrated in a certain set of programs), there's no reason why Wake can't field at least a competitive team.

And yet, for whatever reason, that hasn't happened under Wellman (where it's happened with other sports). I don't know if it's because the program has been put on the relative backburner compared to others within the Wake oeuvre, or what. Losing a head coach that we wanted to keep to North Texas is inexcusable.

Women's basketball is a major negative against Wellman; there's absolutely no reason why the program should still be this bad. Hopefully Jen Hoover can sustain the positive momentum and lead the Deacs to respectability (at the very least).

***** Running Total *****

Football: -6.4 (+2.9) --> -25.8 (+17.3)

Volleyball: +20.9 (+40.8) --> +36.9 (+124.4)

Men's Soccer: +46.5 (+34.6) --> +109.7 (+233.8)

Women's Soccer: +51.3 (+28.9) --> +119.6 (+169.0)

Men's Cross Country: -9.5 (-9.5) --> -48.4 (-48.4)

Women's Cross Country: +17.3 (+17.3) --> +86.6 (+86.6)

Field Hockey: +58.1 (+20.5) --> +131.0 (+164.0)

Men's Basketball: +61.0 (+55.7) --> +91.3 (+163.8)

Women's Basketball: -61.2 (-18.2) --> -99.4 (-56.2)


Total: +401.5 (+854.3)


Total: +924.4 (+2089.3)


With winter sports out of the way, it's time to move on to spring!

However, I must confess, I have planned poorly. While I initially thought to keep this series going at a steady pace over the summer, I now realize that I'm going to spend most of June digesting as much World Cup action as possible and most of July traveling.

As a result, I'm going to attempt to hurry this up a bit. How much? Well, the World Cup starts Thursday, and I'm hoping to have most of the spring sports finished and written up before the action starts in earnest on Friday. So expect one of these a day for the rest of the week, and possibly two if I'm feeling super motivated.

I'll also go ahead and say that I am planning on doing a review of sorts at the end, plotting the year-by-year net win totals adjusted for games played to see what (if any) trends can be spotted over Wellman's tenure. That piece, which will be the fifteenth and final installment of this series, should be finished and posted sometime next week.

Next up: men's golf, traditionally one of the proudest programs at Wake. Also, I tell some golf stories and possibly another pickup basketball story!

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