Year: Ninth Season (11th overall) at VCU
Virginia Commonwealth University’s all-time winningest coach, Beth Cunningham enters her ninth season at the helm and her 11th year overall with the VCU women’s basketball program. A former WNBA player and Notre Dame’s all-time leading scorer, Cunningham spent two years as an assistant with the Rams before taking over the reins at the conclusion of the 2002-03 campaign.
Cunningham has sparked a revival of sort in Richmond. Postseason berths, postseason honors and players moving onto the professional ranks have highlighted recent years for the Rams under Cunningham’s watch.
Cunningham’s appointment in 2003 marked the dawn of a new era in VCU women’s basketball history. For the first time in seven years, the Rams took the court under new management. The former All-American inherited a team that had gone 94-105 under the last regime and boasted only two winning seasons in seven years. She quickly began to restructure the program and reshape her players into hard-working, determined athletes eager to compete and win. Cunningham also spent countless hours on the road, recruiting the right personnel to complete both her staff and her roster.
The coach’s time and effort paid off. In her first season (2003-04), the young coach paced the Rams to an even 14-14 overall record, including a 10-8 mark in the Colonial Athletic Association — tying for fourth-place among conference contenders. Cunningham’s sixth-seeded squad also made quite a splash in the league tournament, upsetting third-seeded Hofstra in the quarterfinals.
DID YOU KNOW?
2 CAA Defensive Players of the Year
1 CAA Rookie of the Year
1 Freshman All-American
1 Associated Press All-American
18 All-CAA Performers
16 CAA All-Academic Honorees
6 CAA All-Defensive Team Selections
3 CAA All-Rookie Team Members
During her second season at the helm, Cunningham’s Rams experienced a few growing pains, as the youthful squad boasted six players new to the college game and reeled from the loss of one of the program’s most prolific scorers. VCU finished the season a disappointing 11-18, but gained valuable experience both on and off the court.
In 2005-06 the seeds Cunningham and her staff had planted through unwavering recruiting efforts began to bear fruit.
Despite fielding one of the nation’s youngest teams, including the country’s youngest player, Cunningham steered VCU to a 13-15 mark. Additionally, redshirt freshman Quanitra Hollingsworth, plucked out of Old Dominion’s backyard in Chesapeake, Va., became the first Freshman All-American and CAA Rookie of the Year in school history.
The 2007-08 campaign brought further progress, this time in record-shattering fashion. VCU captured the most victories (26) in the history of the program. The Rams also claimed school records for road wins, home wins, conference wins and winning percentage. In addition, she guided the Rams to their first CAA Championship game and an appearance in the second round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament.
The winning tradition continued during the 2008-09 season as the Rams matched a school record with 26 victories and produced the first undefeated campaign in Siegel Center history with a perfect 16-0 mark at home. Cunningham’s squad gained the respect of the NCAA Selection Committee as the Rams received an at-large berth and made the program’s first-ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
After back-to-back postseason appearances, Cunningham’s squad was poised for yet another record-breaking year in 2009-10. The Rams turned in a program-best third-straight 20-win campaign and made a return trip to the Postseason WNIT, where VCU defeated Saint Joseph’s and Hofstra before falling at Syracuse in the third round. It marked the third straight postseason appearance for VCU, which stood as the most in school history. Cunningham also led the Black & Gold to its first victory at 17-time league champion Old Dominion in more than three decades following a 75-56 win on Feb. 7, 2010. Perhaps even more impressive, the Rams handed the Lady Monarchs just their fourth (and most lopsided) CAA home loss in 19 seasons.
VCU’s postseason run continued in 2010-11 with the program’s fourth-straight appearance thanks in part to junior Courtny Hurt’s breakout campaign. A honorable mention Associated Press All-American, Hurt led the nation in rebounding (12.4 rpg) and double-doubles (25) while ranking second in the NCAA in scoring (23.2 ppg). She set VCU’s single-season marks in points (720), scoring average, rebounding (385), rebounding average, field goals (253), free throws (193) and double-doubles. The Naismith Trophy candidate also set the Colonial Athletic Association’s double-doubles record and is one of 17 players in NCAA history to post 25 or more in one season. Hurt garnered first team All-CAA accolades to go along with first team All-State honors from both the Richmond Times Dispatch and the Virginia Sports Information Directors Association (VaSID). She also joined Hollingsworth as the second player in program history to receive an invite to the USA Basketball trials. In addition to Hurt’s successful campaign, Cunningham guided the Rams to their first-ever season sweep of league power Old Dominion.
Under Cunningham’s tutelage, two former players have been drafted into the WNBA. In 2008, Krystal Vaughn became the first player from VCU to be selected in the draft as she was chosen in the third round by the Washington Mystics, one of Cunningham’s former teams. The Minnesota Lynx selected Hollingsworth with the ninth overall pick in 2009 as she became the highest ever selection by a VCU student-athlete in any professional draft. VCU joined Old Dominion as the only schools in league history to have back-to-back WNBA selections.
The success of Cunningham’s teams has helped garner a host of honors for herself. Not only did Cunningham become VCU’s all-time winningest coach in 2009 with her 95th career victory on Jan. 18, she was also named Virginia Coach of the Year by the Richmond Times-Dispatch for the second straight year after leading the Rams to back-to-back postseason appearances, while posting a 93-39 mark since the start of the 2007-08 campaign.
Under the watchful eye of Cunningham, VCU has become one of the premier defensive teams in the nation and a true contender for a league title. During the 2008-09 season, the Rams led the CAA and ranked 11th in the nation in scoring defense, surrendering just 54 points per game.
“To see what Beth’s team has done in her time here is a testament to her, her staff and the level of student-athletes she has brought into this program,” said current VCU athletic director Norwood Teague. “She has increased the level of pride around the program. There is a buzz around this team.”
Cunningham brings both an extensive knowledge of the game and a tremendous will to succeed. She molded herself into an All-American player at her alma mater, Notre Dame, through sheer hard work and determination — qualities that VCU was confident would translate into further success as a head coach.
“My goal is to help make VCU a consistent and respected force in the [CAA] on our way to becoming more of a nationally recognized program,” stated Cunningham. “The players I want to coach are the players who want to maximize their potential.”
Cunningham enjoyed a stellar four-year career at Notre Dame and was instrumental in the Irish’s rise to their current status as one of the nation’s elite teams. The all-time leading scorer in Notre Dame’s women’s basketball history, she compiled an astounding 2,322 career points and earned All-America honors twice during her career.
A four-year starter for the Irish and a member of three NCAA tournament squads, Cunningham was named an Associated Press and Kodak honorable mention All-American in 1995-96 after averaging more than 20 points per game during her junior season.
The following year she led Notre Dame to a 31-win campaign and the program’s first-ever NCAA Final Four appearance, highlighted by a 36-point performance in the Irish’s “Sweet 16” victory over Alabama that still stands as an NCAA East Regional single-game record. She was rewarded following her senior season with a second consecutive appearance on the Kodak and AP All-America honorable mention teams.
After graduating from Notre Dame in 1997 with a bachelor’s degree in marketing, Cunningham was drafted by the Richmond Rage in the second round of that year’s American Basketball League draft.
After spending two seasons with the franchise, which moved to Philadelphia prior to the 1997-98 season, she signed with the WNBA’s Washington Mystics following the ABL’s disbandment. Cunningham played in 21 games with the Mystics in 2000 before embarking on her coaching career with VCU. Eight years later, one of her first recruits suited up in a Mystics uniform when Vaughn made her WNBA debut in 2008.
“Coach Cunningham was a big reason for my success,” Vaughn said. “She always believed in me and she always had faith in me. I couldn’t have made it without someone like Coach Cunningham behind me.”
Cunningham also has a wealth of international playing experience as a former member of several U.S. national teams, including the 1997 U.S. squad that captured the gold medal at the World University Games and the 1999 team that won a bronze at that year’s Pan American Games. Cunningham also helped Team USA to a second-place finish at the 1997 World Championship qualifying tournament in Brazil, which earned the U.S. a spot in the 2000 Summer Olympics. In March 2009, Cunningham was selected to serve on the USA Basketball Committee from 2009-2012 as Athlete Representative for the Junior National Team.
A native of Bloomington, Ind., Cunningham still holds the career
scoring record at Bloomington South High School, where she was an
all-state performer in both basketball and tennis. A hometown
legend of sorts, she was inducted into the Monroe County Sports
Hall of Fame in June 2011. Her father, Bob Morgan, was the
longtime head baseball coach at Indiana University before stepping
down in 2005. Cunningham and her husband, Dan, reside in
THE CUNNINGHAM FILE:
Virginia Commonwealth University, M.S., 2003
University of Notre Dame, B.S., 1997
Bloomington South High School, 1993
2003-present: VCU, Head Coach
2002-03 VCU: Associate Head Coach
2001-02 VCU: Assistant Coach
2000: WNBA, Washington Mystics
1997-2000: Team USA
1997-98: ABL, Philadelphia Rage
1993-97: University of Notre Dame
1999: Bronze Medal recipient, Pan American Games
1997: Gold Medal recipient, World University Games; All-time leading scorer at Notre Dame (2,322 points)
1996, 1997: Kodak All-American, Honorable Mention
1996, 1997: Associated Press All-American, Honorable Mention
1996, 1997: All-Big East First Team; Notre Dame Team Captain
1994, 1995: All-Midwestern Collegiate First Team
COACHING CAREER AT VCU (2003-PRESENT)
- Served as an assistant (2001-02) and as associate head coach (2002-03) before assuming head coaching duties in 2003-04.
- VCU's all-time winningest coach with 148 career victories
- Has guided the Rams to four-straight postseason appearances, including the program's first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament with an at-large selection in 2009
- Averaged 23 wins per year since 2007 with three straight 20-win campaigns from 2007-10 (most successful four-year run in school history)
- Led VCU to back-to-back 26-win seasons (both school records) including an undefeated campaign at home in 2008-09
- Has coached seven professional players, including a pair of WNBA draft picks in 2008 and 2009
- Two of her players have earned All-America honors, most recently Courtney Hurt (a Naismith Trophy candidate, which is awarded annually to the nation's best women's basketball player) who led the NCAA in rebounding and double-doubles, and ranked second in the nation in scoring in 2010-11
- Since joining VCU as an assistant, Cunningham has coached two CAA Players of the Year, two CAA Defensive Players of the Year, one CAA Rookie of the Year, two All-Americans, 18 All-CAA performers, 16 CAA All-Academic honorees, six CAA All-Defensive Team selections and three CAA All-Rookie selections
USA BASKETBALL CAREER
- Has a wealth of international playing experience as a member of several United States national teams, including the 1997 U.S. squad that captured the gold medal at the World University Games and the 1999 team that won a bronze in the Pan American Games
- Helped Team USA to a second-place finish at the 1997 World Championship qualifying tournament in Brazil, which earned the U.S. a spot in the 2000 Summer Olympics.
- Is currently serving a four-year term on the USA Basketball Committee as an Athlete Representative for the Junior National Team… previously served on the Women's Collegiate Committee as an athlete representative from 2005-08
COLLEGIATE CAREER AT NOTRE DAME (1993-1997)
- Enjoyed a stellar four-year career at Notre Dame and was instrumental in the Irish's rise to their current status as one of the nation's elite programs.
- Averaged better than 18 points per game during her four seasons, finishing her career as the school's all-time leading scorer (2,322 points)… Also earned four All-America honors
- Was part of three NCAA Tournament squads, including the program's first-ever NCAA Final Four appearance during a 31-win, 1997 campaign… Used a 36-point performance to help lead the Irish to a Sweet Sixteen victory over Alabama, an NCAA East Regional single-game record
HIGH SCHOOL CAREER AT BLOOMINGTON SOUTH
- Holds the school's all-time scoring record
- All-State performer in basketball and tennis