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By Greg Johnson
Bentley women’s basketball coach Barbara Stevens is on the verge of joining the exclusive 800-win club.
To date, Pat Summitt, Jody Conradt, C. Vivian Stringer and Sylvia Hatchell are the only coaches in the sport to reach this plateau. Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer has a chance for win No. 800 Thursday night when the Cardinal travel to DePaul.
Stevens’ next game is Sunday when Bentley hosts C.W. Post. She has led the Division II school’s women’s basketball program for the last 25 years with a steady hand.
Combined with her six years at Clark and three years at Massachusetts, it has all added up to a stellar coaching career for Stevens. One of her main approaches through the years has been to emphasize team accomplishments and goals over any individual accolades. Stevens doesn’t want that to change, especially since she’s the focal point of the Falcons’ next game.
But it’s hard to downplay Sunday’s game when Boston television stations are filming practice – as happened early this week at Bentley.
“That was a little different,” said Stevens, whose team is off to a 7-1 start this season. “It’s the elephant in the room. It’s there, but I’m trying to minimize what I can do. I don’t want my team to feel any additional pressure. These are young people in the middle of exams, by the way. There’s already enough stuff going on in their lives.”
Still, a milestone victory is in the offing whether it comes in the next game or later in the season. It has made Stevens reflect on the career path she chose after graduating from Bridgewater State in 1976.
“This is a tribute to the players and coaches who I’ve worked with over the years,” Stevens said. “This is a team sport. You don’t do anything by yourself in this sport. I wish each of them could share in this. It is as much theirs as it is mine.”
Stevens grew up the youngest of four daughters in a sports-oriented household. Whatever sport she wanted to try was met with enthusiasm by her parents.
She eventually played four years of basketball at Bridgewater State and had plans of becoming a high school teacher and coach in health and physical education. A chance meeting with the athletics director at Clark changed those plans.
She was hired to be the institution’s women’s basketball assistant for $400.
“I thought I had hit the lottery,” Stevens reminisced. “At the time, I was also a teacher and had a job at a local Catholic grammar school that was also next to a junior and senior high school.”
In those days, it wasn’t uncommon for Stevens to teach typing and art, as well as be the intramurals director at Clark.
“Back then, you were given all kinds of tasks to have a full-time position,” said Stevens, who was named Division II Coach of the Year in 1993, 1999 and 2001 by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association. “I did everything and loved every second of it.”
So when her current players complain about having too much to do, Stevens only laughs and offers advice on time management.
Now, those players, who have prepared for their lots in life under her tutelage, can give her a special memory whenever the 800th victory occurs.
“We always say the most important game is the next one on our schedule,” Stevens said. “I am trying to keep it the same way that we prepare and focus for any game.”
It’s a saying Stevens’ players have lived by successfully for the past 34 years.