"Leave It A Little Better Than It Was Before"
This story appeared in the Yale-Brown game program Feb. 22-23
Dartmouth women's basketball coach Chris Wielgus knew that she was going to be a coach.
"I went to a Catholic school and I kept sneaking into the gym. The nuns took my gym shoes away so that I would go to class so I played in my bare feet. Every free moment that I had I would go into the gym and play. I loved to play. The nuns told me that I wouldn't amount to anything if I didn't do anything in the classroom so I said 'Ok'. I think I turned out just fine."
Wielgus turned out better than ok and she has basketball to thank for that. The Dartmouth head coach has taken the Big Green women's basketball program from the ground up.
The New York City native came to Dartmouth in 1976 and from that moment began crafting a dynasty. The Big Green won their first of a league-best 17 titles during the 1979-80 season and hasn't looked back.
Wielgus, although she knew that she wanted to coach, didn't expect it to turn out this way. She's in "survival mode" at all times.
"All I've known my whole life is to survive. It's a reality of the profession. You try to get this game and then get the next game; I've really never been in any other mode. I just try to keep my head above water and look forward to what's ahead."
Wielgus has a saying that she wants to "keep her future ahead of her" and although she's very focused on the future. She has two very important pieces of her past on staff with her. Assistant coach Erin Rewalt '99 and Director of Operation Koren Schram '09 team with Olympian Yolanda Griffith to form a formidable staff for Wielgus.
"This staff helps me keep my future ahead of me," said Wielgus. "They work incredibly hard and they really care for the players. They fall over each other to help the players the teach them and that's what coaching is all about."
The greatest indication of success as a coach is not your wins and losses, but the amount of lives that you reach and if the dedication of the Dartmouth women's basketball alumnae is any indication, Wielgus has made a far- reaching impact.
If you talk to any of the players that have come through this program the idea of "leaving it a little better than it was before" is a direct reflection of Wielgus. In a recent interview senior guard Faziah Steen was asked what she wanted her legacy to be at Dartmouth and her response was to "leave it better than it was before." - a motto that Wielgus has preached to each team and each player that has come through the program.
In fact, if you talk to Wielgus, that is her wish as well. She recalls a time when she was talking to former Athletic Director, Josie Harper, about the banners in the Leede Arena.
"When I was coming back for the second time, I was in the gym with Josie and she asked me which of the Ivy League championship banners was the most memorable. I told her 'the five that came after I left.' Those five championships mean that we did something right and we built something here."
There is no question that Wielgus has built something at Dartmouth, she is one of the longest-tenured coaches in the Ivy League and has won 12 Ivy League Championship, the most of any coach in the league, but if you know Wielgus, she's not hanging it up anytime soon.
The last two seasons she has had arguably her two youngest teams ever. In 2011-12, the Big Green suited up just two upperclassmen, one senior and one junior, and this season Dartmouth has the distinction of being the second-youngest team in the nation, with seven rookies and eight players with no collegiate basketball experience.
"With a young team there is so much enthusiasm," Wielgus said. "They come to the gym bright-eyed and eager to learn and get better, but with that comes a huge range of emotions. They come to the gym and are so excited, but are devastated when they might not get in a game or things don't go how they expect. The enthusiasm and blind-faith that they have keeps you going and it keeps you young."
Although Wielgus doesn't want to relish in her past, she is approaching several coaching milestones. She's approaching her 400th Dartmouth win and is moving closer to her 500th career win, numbers that firmly cement her among the top college basketball coaches.
When Wielgus looks back on her coaching career, I don't think she'll remember the numbers or the games but she will remember the players and you can rest assured that the players will remember her. You can't come to play at Dartmouth and not be changed by Chris Wielgus.