By Greg Gulas
Caroline McCombs learned first-hand from former Youngstown State women’s basketball coach Ed DiGregorio the meaning of family when applied to a team concept during a stellar playing career with the Penguins.
Named last Friday as the new head coach at Stony Brook University, she’ll now have an opportunity to create her own family environment for the America East Conference runner-up Seawolves.
“Everything has unfolded so quickly and while it’s been a hectic week or so, it’s also been fun and very enjoyable,” McCombs said. “I’m just so appreciative of the opportunity and a chance now to run my own program. I spent two great years at Auburn University but I’m really looking forward to the challenge of leading Stony Brook University to the next level.”
In 15 years of college coaching, McCombs has been a part of 11 Division I national postseason berths, either NCAA or WNIT, is responsible for the development of two Associated Press All-Americans and three WNBA players.
A native of Medina, she played for the Penguins from 1994-98 and scored 1,557 points while graduating as the sixth all-time leading scorer in YSU women’s basketball history.
Not bad, according to DiGregorio, for someone who didn’t even have a Division I scholarship offer after her senior high school season.
“The first time that I ever saw Caroline play she put on an absolute clinic, so I thought to myself that I had better take another look and a week or so later doesn’t she do the same thing,” DiGregorio said. “When I was told that she had no other Division I scholarship offers, I made sure that YSU was the one school to offer her an opportunity to pursue her academic and athletic dreams.
“She was a natural — a No. 2 guard who could shoot from anywhere on the court, but the best thing about her game was that she was like another coach when in the game. She knew where everyone was around her and just had this pride about being a team player. That’s why she’s been successful as an assistant coach and will be an even bigger success as a head coach.”
McCombs started 112 of 115 games while with the Penguins and finished among school leaders with 146 career 3-pointers, 493 assists and 236 steals.
She went on to play in the European Professional Women’s Basketball League upon graduation, competing in the Czech Basketball Federation and 1998 European Cup before embarking on a coaching career, first as a graduate assistant at Valparaiso University.
While with the Crusaders she was elevated to full-time assistant and earned her master’s degree. She followed that up with stops at Pittsburgh, Northwestern and her last two seasons at Auburn.
“I had two great years at Auburn and like other stops along the way the hardest part is leaving the players. It’s tough to say good-bye to those that you’ve recruited,” McCombs said. “When you preach family, like coach DiGregorio did to us, you keep in touch and wish them nothing but the very best.”
Auburn women’s head coach Terri Williams-Flournoy feels that the timing is perfect for McCombs’ first head coaching position.
“I feel like Caroline will be a fantastic head coach,” Williams-Flournoy said in a statement provided at McCombs’ introductory news conference. “I think she will be able to jump right in and give Stony Brook leadership in that position and has the potential to do great things.”
McCombs is newly appointed Seawolves director of athletics Shawn Heilbron’s first official hire.
“I believe that Caroline brings the experience and vision that will allow the Seawolves to reach new heights,” he said.
McCombs, who said her interview felt more like a conversation, shares Heilbron’s vision and expectations.
‘We’re setting our goals high and won’t be afraid as we shoot for the NCAA tournament,” she said. “We’ll focus on both short and long term goals and want to win today on the court, in the classroom and in the community.”