Candice Signor-Brown is certainly no stranger to success. A two-time All-American at Marymount University, she led the Saints to the national semifinals of the NCAA DIII basketball tournament in 2002 and finished her career in the 1,000-point club. She has found similar success as a coach. During a ten-year run at Vassar College, she coached four teams that appeared in the NCAA tournament, and achieved an overall record of 159 wins and 106 losses. Her coaching staff was three-times voted as the best in the Liberty League. It is this pedigree that Signor-Brown, who is leading the turn-around of the women’s basketball program, brought to Swarthmore this off-season.
For the last several seasons, the women’s basketball program seemed to be stuck in the doldrums. As other Swarthmore teams qualified for the Centennial Conference and NCAA tournaments and made names for themselves on a national stage, women’s basketball was mired in losing seasons. In the three seasons prior to this one, the team had only managed a total of ten wins. But that did not deter Signor-Brown. The draw of the position at Swarthmore was certainly a strong one. Distance certainly played a role in it; Signor-Brown is originally from Arlington, VA and the move to Swarthmore shortened her trip home by three hours. More important, though, was the success that other teams like men’s basketball have found at Swarthmore over the last few years.
“Seeing what the men’s basketball team is doing here [playing in the national championship game last season], you know that there is hope for the women’s program” said Signor-Brown.
Indeed, when men’s head coach Landry Kosmalski took the reins in 2012, he was in a similar position to Signor-Brown. The team he took over was coming off of a 3-22 season. By his fourth year, Kosmalski had brought the team to the Centennial Conference tournament final. By his fifth year, they were hosting the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, and an appearance in last year’s national championship game further proved that Swarthmore teams could achieve national championship pedigree.
The prospect of a rebuild was not a daunting one for Signor-Brown.
“I’ve had experience with turning around two programs prior to this. Vassar and Swarthmore are very similar schools so I knew I had a blueprint to work off of when coming here,” said Signor-Brown.
The blueprint has proven to be a good one so far. This year’s team with their 11-9 record has already bettered the combined win total from their last three campaigns. Such a swift turnaround is not unprecedented for Signor-Brown. When she took over as Vassar’s coach in 2010, the team was coming off a 4-21 season. In her first year at the helm of the Brewers, they were already more competitive as they posted a 9-15 record. By her second year, she had led them to an NCAA tournament berth thanks to an upset victory in the Liberty League Championships. But since arriving at Swarthmore, Signor-Brown has already exceeded her goals coming into the year. She had initially hoped for a three-year turn-around: the team being more competitive this first year, finishing .500 the next, and reaching the conference tournament in the third. This team, however, currently is tied for the fifth seed in the conference playoff race with five games remaining, suggesting that a total rebuild was not necessary.
“Part of rebuilding is unlocking potential that is already present in a program. Players have to find a belief in the system and also believe in themselves. It’s been really fun unlocking that potential and opening the players’ eyes to what they’re capable of. They have a belief in themselves now that they can compete in the conference,” said Signor-Brown.
While this year’s roster is fairly similar to last year’s, with only Audra Woodside ’19 graduating, the Garnet have been the beneficiaries of one key arrival. Although she has been out the last couple of games, Dana Bandurick ’23 has made her presence known on the court with stellar defense and much appreciated scoring potential. She has thrice been named Centennial Conference Player of the Week, and her averages of 17.1 points and 9.1 rebounds per game are good for fourth and third in the conference respectively (she also leads the conference in shooting percentage by nearly 8 percent). With her play she has almost assuredly made herself one of the frontrunners for Rookie of the Year in the conference.
“Having Dana come in and being an extremely versatile player, it’s helped the pieces around her to be better,” said Signor-Brown.
Bandurick is not the only important member of the roster who has had to miss time this season. Faith Nation ’21 missed the first five games of the season for the Garnet. While she took some time to get going, once she returned, she has become one of the focal points of the Garnet’s offense in their last few games, scoring over twenty points in two of three. Karinna Papke ’22, who began the season shooting nearly 50 percent from beyond the arc also missed a few games earlier in the season. Additionally, backup point guard Isabelle Ewart ’21 remains out after playing in the first six games of the season.
“We talk about roles all the time. Injuries happen all the time, and it’s important that when they do people step up to fill those roles. We’re very excited about the success Faith has seen over the last two games. Injuries are always difficult, but if everyone can take up a portion of what’s lost, then we can overcome the difference.” said Signor-Brown.