The new Rams leader
SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. – Jenna Eckleberry is at the place she has always wanted to be.
The 2003 Oak Glen High School graduate is in the lead chair, being named the head women’s basketball coach at Shepherd University.
“It’s been overwhelming how much support I have received from everyone back home – from friends and family – and I appreciate it,” Eckleberry said.
She just finished her 10th year in the program at her alma mater, Fairmont State University, the last seven as an assistant coach. The Fighting Falcons were 139-69 over that span, did not have a losing record and captured three conference titles and made three NCAA postseason appearances.
“Jenna brings an impressive background both as a player and a coach,” said Shepherd director of athletics B.J. Pumroy. “She has played a big part in the success at Fairmont State and learned under coach Steve McDonald who is well respected as an x’s and o’s coach. We feel she is a great fit to lead our team on and off the court.”
The Rams are coming off a 4-23 season, which included a 12-game losing streak.
“My goal has always been to be a head coach and I’m ready to become a head coach,” she said. “I would not have applied if I knew I wasn’t ready.
“I’ve known pretty much since the fourth grade I wanted to be a coach. I always said I wanted to play in the NBA and when I realized that couldn’t happen, being a coach was next. I’ve always been a coach at heart.
“When I got offered the job, my dad texted me and said he remembered that back in the 10th grade I said I was going to be a head coach before the age of 30. That was pretty neat.
“I would not be the coach I am today without my father and my family.
“What I want is to build a program, and by that I mean I don’t want a program that has one year of 20 wins and then goes back to seven or 15 or eight. I want consistency in building a program that year in and year out has a winning record and is playing for a conference championship and a chance to play in the NCAAs.
“I’m not looking at this being a rebuilding year. I”ve known the conference for the past 10 years. I think the talent is there. The potential in the players is there. I will have high expectations for us.”
One negative is being handed the job on the wrong end of the recruiting season.
“The first year or two is going to be the toughest here recruiting,” she admitted. “I was out recruiting for Fairmont not too long ago. I have a lot of great relationships with a lot of great people. We are going to recruit some of the same kids. Shepherd is in a great location with Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania to recruit from, along with the great state of West Virginia.
“But, being from Fairmont for the last 10 years and knowing the conference and the teams and the area, the transition will be a lot easier. I am comfortable in the relationships I have already formed and the ones I can make. Plus, our players already know me from Fairmont.”
She had a 45-minute sitdown with the Shepherd players during her on-campus interview.
“I think that my knowledge of the game, being in the conference, my work ethic, coming from a winning program was a plus for me in talking with them,” Eckleberry commented. “It was a good bonding experience with the players. We need to be ahead of the game come August.
“Plus, the way I can relate to players, I feel I can bring out their strengths. We are going to continue to develop our players throughout the season. Every day we will work on late-game situations and individual and team drills.”
Eckleberry said she is a fan of the up-tempo game and will use it with the Rams.
“This team averaged 76 points a game last year, but they also averaged 22 turnovers,” she said. “That is too many turnovers. I like to play uptempo, run and press. But, all that comes with discipline. You have to value every possession of the ball. With the players we have coming back in the system, I feel we can do that.”
Eckleberry landed at Fairmont State after one year at Robert Morris after being a four-year starter for the Golden Bears.
The coach who recruited her to Robert Morris was relieved of her duties, so Eckleberry transferred after starting every game and averaging 36 minutes as a freshman.
Eckleberry helped lead the Falcons to their first NCAA postseason appearance in her first season. As a junior, she ranked eighth in assists per game (6.2) and her 180 assists were the fifth most in program history.
As a senior, she ranked seventh in the country in assists per game (6.7) and gained honorable mention All-WVIAC honors. Eckleberry led the league in assist/turnover ratio (2.81) that year and set a school record with 17 assists against West Chester. Her 411 career assists are the sixth most in school history.
She was named the Colebank Award winner as the school’s top female senior athlete.
“But, I wouldn’t be where I am now if I didn’t transfer,” she said. “I am anxious and excited to get started. I look at the (to do) list and I just want to get started with everything now. I feel like I have a whole bunch of stuff to do. I am more excited than anything with the realization that I actually am a head coach at a great university. That is finally starting to sink in.
“My teeth are hurting because all I do is smile.”