By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
Consistency marked Missouri Southern’s women’s basketball program during Maryann Mitts’ 12 years as head coach.
The Lions finished in at least a tie for third, fourth or fifth place in the rugged MIAA eight times under Mitts, including six straight years from 2006 through 2011.
Improvement came in the very first year as the 2001-02 Lions placed fifth in the league after the previous five teams wound up eighth, ninth or 10th.
“In the highly competitive MIAA, which I always believed humbles you, the consistency at which our program showed success ... I’m very proud of what we have accomplished here,” Mitts said.
Mitts addressed the media and some MSSU athletic staff members during a Wednesday afternoon press conference on campus, one day after announcing she was retiring as basketball coach to accept a teaching position in the school’s kinesiology department.
Ronda Hubbard, Mitts’ No. 1 assistant coach at MSSU and for four years at Rockhurst, has been named the Lions’ interim head coach.
“You have one of the best coaches in the country taking over this program,” Mitts said. “She has taken a back seat to me, but behind the scenes, she has done everything that a head coach does. From a teaching aspect, strategic aspect, the things she has done makes her an amazing candidate for this position.”
The Lions had only one losing season under Mitts and qualified for the MIAA Postseason Tournament every year except one. The MIAA Tournament provided plenty of frustration for the Lions, including three first-round losses in overtime and other losses that kept the Lions from advancing to the NCAA Tournament.
Missouri Southern bounced back from that one losing season — 8-18 in 2011-12 — to improve to 14-13 last season with an almost entire roster makeover.
“They have done tremendous things for Missouri Southern women’s basketball in a very, very short period of time,” Mitts said. “This group will always have a special, special place in my heart.”
Mitts informed many of those players of her decision on Tuesday afternoon.
“They were in shock, and rightly so,” Mitts said. “They did not see this coming. For some there were tears, for some there were no tears. I asked if there were any questions, and nobody said anything.
“But I stayed in my office for four hours, and I afford them the opportunity to come by, and they did (to say congratulations and thank you). I told them I’m not going anywhere, just upstairs. And I will be their No. 1 fan.”