Shooting for the Top

Cindy Martin arrived on campus in May humming a melody made popular by The Mamas and the Papas. Few could have imagined the significance behind California Dreamin’.

Cindy Martin

The dream embraced by the new IUP women’s basketball coach has nothing to do with the state and everything to do with a state of mind. Martin is convinced her program can win a national championship, replicating what Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference rival California achieved in 2004.

Such talk might strike anyone who watched the Indians stumble to a 9-18 record last season—worst in school history—as exceedingly audacious, but Martin is undeterred. In fact, California’s climb to the summit of NCAA Division II basketball has inspired her mantra: Why not IUP?

“I will give Darcie Vincent all the credit in the world,” Martin says, referring to the Vulcans’ coach. “She’s done a great job there. And we have the same resources they do, so we should be able to do that. It took her four years. I think that’s a great four-year goal, to try to win the national championship.”

That’s an especially ambitious aim, given IUP’s precipitous plunge into the PSAC West basement last season. But if anyone’s equipped to engineer a monumental rebuilding project, it’s Martin. She has experience rescuing programs in peril.

Mike Carey hired Martin as an assistant in 2001 after he landed the head coaching job at West Virginia, which was coming off an abysmal 5-22 season. Three years later, WVU won twenty-one games and played in the NCAA tournament. The Mountaineers posted twenty-one victories again last season and advanced to the WNIT title game.

“We turned things around in three years at West Virginia,” said Martin, a former University of Florida point guard. “If we could do that in the Big East, I know we can do that here. There’s no reason in three years why we shouldn’t win the conference. No reason at all.”

A solid foundation on which to build is already in place. Senior guard Kara Taylor, the top returning scorer from last season (9.9 points per game), senior guard Mame Brumbaugh, senior forward Julie Gallo, and junior guard Katie Glaws started a combined eighty games a year ago and should provide veteran leadership. Sophomore guard Lauren Fisher and six-foot-four center Sejla Borovina, a junior from Bosnia, also return. Martin is also counting on guards Kristin Kalervo and Jahzinga Tracey, who were redshirted a year ago; freshmen Staci Heberling, Lizzie Suwala, Kylie Miller, and Siarra Cornelius, former coach Justin English’s last recruiting class; and several transfers.

“There definitely is some talent here,” said Martin, who will be assisted by Melissa O’Neil and Candis Cook. “I just think it needs to be tapped into a little better.”

What’s encouraging to Martin is that her players are eager to expunge the memory of last season’s debacle and restore the program to a place of prominence in the PSAC.

“They are very excited,” Martin said. “I spoke with all of them as soon as I took the job, and I met with almost all of them during the summer. They want change; they want to win.”

The Indians will open the season November 18 against Bridgeport in the Millersville Tip-Off Classic. They’ll make their home debut a week later against Charleston in the eight-team Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation Classic.

Martin hopes a return to winning basketball will attract crowds to Memorial Field House, where attendance has dwindled since IUP last advanced to the NCAA tournament in 2000.

“I want to bring the fans back into the gym,” Martin said. “We’re going to play an up-tempo style of game that people are gonna enjoy. I think it’ll be exciting to watch these young ladies come out here and compete, to see the teamwork and camaraderie.”

And, Martin hopes, the victory celebrations. She foresees a time when winning becomes as automatic as breathing to her players.

“The sky’s the limit,” Martin said. “I know if we do a good job and the chips fall into place, the possibilities are endless.”

Even a national championship is conceivable. That’s why the thirty-year-old Martin arrived on campus humming a melody that topped the charts before she was even born. California Dreamin’ carries a certain significance in terms of IUP basketball.

Matching what PSAC rival California achieved in 2004 is Cindy Martin’s avowed goal. And she’s given herself four years to achieve it.