UMass women’s basketball welcomes new coach Tory Verdi during press conference Wednesday morning

By Adam Aucoin

Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian
(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

The University of Massachusetts welcomed a new face to its community Wednesday morning when the new Massachusetts women’s basketball coach Tory Verdi was introduced at the John F. Kennedy Champions Center.

Verdi comes to Amherst after spending four seasons at the helm at Eastern Michigan where he led the Eagles to the Women’s National Invitational Tournament the past two seasons, accumulating a 72-61 record during his tenure.

For Verdi, the most common question that has come up to since his hiring was why he choose UMass. His response was quite clear Wednesday.

“Why not UMass? I truly believe we can win and win big,” Verdi said in his press conference. “We will no longer be outworked and get outplayed. However we will play hard, we will play smart, we will play together, and we will have a lot of fun. When you do all of that, you will have success.”

For a team that has shown improvement the past couple seasons, but remained stagnant with a pair of 12-18 seasons, a change in culture was needed to break through.

“Expectations will be on the rise. Accountability will be apparent and a winning attitude will be instilled,” Verdi said. “It’s time to gain respect in the Atlantic 10 conference and the rest of the country. It’s time to win and win big.”

To realize his vision for the future for UMass, recruiting and getting players to buy in will be on the top of Verdi’s to-do list.

With the brand-new Champions Center at their disposal, the Minutewomen should have no problems making the sell to potential recruits, according to Verdi.

“We are an unbelievable institution and we can recruit to that,” Verdi said. “The first thing you look at is the Champions Center. This is a ‘wow factor’ for us. The place sells itself and I’m excited about that. We can go out and recruit the best players in the country now because now we have something to sell.

“Just connecting with the student-athletes that are here now, visiting them, hearing their stories and spending that time,” Verdi added. “Taking care of what we have right now and then move out and moving forward, continuing to talk to the incoming freshmen – we have five freshman coming in as well. We have to take care of in-house first.”

Two of the Minutewomen’s rising seniors, Kymber Hill and Alyx Stiff, spent their first three seasons under former coach Sharon Dawley and will be tasked with being the leaders on Verdi’s team next season. Both expressed excitement in Verdi’s arrival.

“When he came in yesterday he expressed the new change that he wanted to bring in,” Hill said. “I feel like our program needed a change to be successful. In the end, we finished last year with the same record and we want change now. Being a senior, I want to go out with a bang.”

Stiff also recognized the fact that it is tough to transition to a new coach, but she is excited to see what her senior year brings.

“Bringing in a new coach, initially you get that, ‘whoa, you don’t know me’ feeling, but I think we want to win and be successful so that’s the plan,” Stiff said. “We have a lot of talent on the team and a lot of skills, but we just needed the right leader to bring us together and make us solid.”

Athletic director Ryan Bamford has bought into Verdi’s approach and expects big things from the budding women’s basketball program.

“At the end of the day Tory, and Darrice (Griffin, who oversaw the search process) and I have spoke about this – it’s not unlike the other 20 sports, we want to build a program,” Bamford said. “It’s not about building a team year to year, it’s not about having success one year and wondering if you are going to have success the next year. I don’t think anyone has higher expectations for this program than the head coach we just hired.”

Verdi will have his work cut out for him with UMass’ leading scorer from last year, Cierra Dillard, transferring to Buffalo earlier this week. But he’ll have all but three players from last season’s team returning and five incoming freshman.

“There is a lot of work left to be done moving forward, but my initial (step) is to take care of our student-athletes and then hiring a staff,” Verdi said. “We will work on that within the next couple of weeks but I am going to, obviously, talk to the current stat that is here. I am eager to visit with them today and then moving forward.”

Adam Aucoin can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @aaucoi