May 6, 2021 

Dartmouth women’s basketball hires Bowdoin’s Adrienne Shibles to change its fortunes

"It's an exciting time to be a part of Ivy League women's basketball," Shibles said on Tuesday

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On Monday, Dartmouth announced that it had hired Adrienne Shibles as its next women’s basketball head coach. Shibles has been the head coach at Bowdoin for the past 13 years and is the winningest coach in Polar Bears history.

“I’m excited to welcome Adrienne and her family to our Dartmouth community,” interim director of athletics and recreation Peter Roby said in the announcement. “She is a proven winner with a commitment to empowering young women to reach their full potential in every way. She is well respected throughout college basketball and will provide our women’s basketball program with dynamic leadership for many years to come.”

Shibles has had an illustrious career at the Division III level, starting as a player at Bates College in her home state of Maine. She was a two-time captain and scored 1,005 career points, which ranks 19th in program history. After college, she coached at Babson, Colby, and Elms Colleges between 1991 and 1996 before becoming the head coach at Swarthmore, where she stayed for a decade.

Shibles then spent three years as the dean of athletics and co-curricular programs at Gould Academy, a college preparatory school in Maine, before taking over at nearby Bowdoin in 2008. In 13 years with the Polar Bears, she won 81% of her games, made the NCAA Tournament in all 11 seasons in which it was played, and advanced to eight Sweet Sixteens and two Final Fours. In 2018-19, the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association named her the Division III Coach of the Year after the Polar Bears won a school-record 31 games and advanced to the national championship game.

“It’s an exciting time to be a part of Ivy League women’s basketball,” Shibles told The Next on Tuesday, her first full day as Dartmouth’s head coach. She sees plenty of similarities between Dartmouth and Bowdoin and is eager to get back on the court after a winter in which neither Bowdoin nor the Ivy League competed in athletics. (However, the Council of Ivy League Presidents announced on Tuesday that, “barring unanticipated circumstances,” the league will play “regular competitive schedules” this fall, which paves the way for winter sports to proceed.)

Shibles replaces Belle Koclanes, who left Dartmouth at the end of March to become the president of Strive leadership development organization: How You Lead Matters. While the Ivy League still boasts Harvard head coach Kathy Delaney-Smith, who will celebrate her 40th season in Cambridge in 2021-22, five of the league’s eight teams have now hired new head coaches in the last six years.

The list of newcomers includes Princeton’s Carla Berube, who joined the Tigers in 2019-20 after 17 seasons at Tufts—one of Bowdoin’s top rivals in the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC). Berube praised Shibles’ hire in a statement and also wrote to Shibles on Twitter, “The entire Dartmouth community is lucky to have you and I’m so excited to battle once again.”

“Carla and I are fierce competitors and so we had so many battles each and every year,” Shibles said. “… It’ll be fun to be back in the same league with her.”

Shibles’ goal is to elevate the Dartmouth program to have the same kinds of battles with Berube’s Tigers—one of the top programs in the Ivy League as of late—as the two coaches experienced in the NESCAC. Dartmouth has won 17 Ivy League championships in program history, but none since 2009, and it has never won a postseason game. Since that 2009 Ivy League title, the Big Green have had just one winning season and one finish in the top half of the Ivy League.

“The vision for the program is to build it back up to excellence, but that’s going to take time and intentionality and a lot of hard work, frankly, and focus on team culture, which I’m really passionate about,” Shibles said.

Shibles is prepared to build a new culture at Dartmouth in part because of an experience she had early in her tenure at Bowdoin. The team performed well on the court, advancing to the Sweet 16, but there was “some dissension in the team” that blindsided her.

“That particular moment in time really informed a shift for me as a coach and the way I build culture within a program,” Shibles explained. “And [now] I strongly believe in a shared leadership model and providing student-athletes with ownership of their program, giving them space to lead and encouraging them to find their authentic voice. So that adversity that I faced … was transformative.”

At Bowdoin, Shibles played an up-tempo brand of basketball, subbing frequently and mixing up defenses to try to wear opponents down. In each of her final three seasons, the Polar Bears ranked second in Division III in offensive rating, in the top three in margin of victory per game, and in the top ten in points per game. They were also an excellent rebounding team: in 2019-20, they collected 59.5% of all available rebounds, which ranked first in all of Division III.

However, Shibles won’t necessarily implement that style of play right away at Dartmouth, saying instead that she wants to get more familiar with her current roster and the other teams in the Ivy League before deciding on a strategy for 2021-22. Next season, Dartmouth will not have five of its top six scorers from 2019-20 but will return senior Katie Douglas, who started 21 games as a sophomore and averaged 7.5 points and 2.0 assists per game while shooting 36.8% from 3-point range.

Shibles will balance film study, recruiting, and getting to know the current Dartmouth players with her role as head coach of the USA U16 national team this summer. Team USA will compete in the FIBA Americas U16 Championship in late June, which is a qualification tournament for the 2022 U17 World Cup. In a statement, Shibles said that she was most excited about “the opportunity to help develop the next generation” as Team USA’s head coach.

That is exactly what Shibles will be doing at Dartmouth, too, as she works to elevate the Big Green in a conference that has become noticeably deeper and more talented over the past several seasons and earned its first-ever at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament in 2016. That growth will presumably make Shibles’ task more difficult, but she is ready to get started.

“It’s the start of a new chapter for Dartmouth women’s basketball,” she said.

Written by Jenn Hatfield

Jenn Hatfield has been a contributor to The Next since December 2018 and is currently the site's managing editor, Washington Mystics beat reporter and Ivy League beat reporter. (She also writes the "Family Rivalries" series for The Next.) Her work has also appeared at FiveThirtyEight, Her Hoop Stats and FanSided.

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