Feb. 10, 2011
MADISON, Wis. -- A milestone, by definition, is a marker, a stone marker - more literally, a Lisa Stone marker established to measure the distance in miles/years that she has traveled during her coaching journey from a given point, or starting point.
"It means that you've been in the business a long time," Stone said.
That has been the UW women's basketball coach's stock answer to any questions about reaching her next mileStone, 500 career wins. "If we can do what we need to do and get that next victory," Stone allowed, "a milestone is certainly a time to reflect and look back at great staffs and players."
Bouncing back from a heartbreaking overtime loss to Michigan State, the Badgers got that next victory Sunday at Indiana. By doing so, they presented Stone with her 500th while staying alive in the Big Ten title chase; a far more important consequence of the outcome, Stone pointed out.
"This is a special team and we're not done yet," she added.
Coaches, like Stone, prefer to stay in the moment. They become so immersed in their current team and season that they are reluctant to take a step back in time even though they have earned that flashback, however endearing. Most have been for Stone, who conceded, "I'm blessed. I love what I do."
Despite racking up 500 career victories, Stone still remembers her first loss. "It came in my very first game as a college coach," said Stone, who was coaching at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa. "My mom and sister came to the game. We were playing the Upper Iowa Peacocks and we lost in double-overtime."
Stone remembered feeling "horribly upset at the time, not knowing that there was an awful lot of games left in the season" and her career. Cornell is still meaningful to this day for Stone because it was the starting point on her journey. "I just turned 22 years old and got hired right away out of college," she said.
By the time that season got underway, she was 23. That still made her the youngest head coach at a four-year college in the country. Stone is forever grateful to that Cornell athletic director for taking a chance on her. Although she had no resume then as a coach, she was accomplished as a player.
As a point guard, Stone led Oregon High School to two state tournament appearances before moving on to the University of Iowa, where she was a four-year starter, a three-year captain, and a two-time Most Valuable Player. The first couple of seasons were a struggle because the Hawkeyes weren't very good.
"You learned how to coach and not to coach through your experiences," Stone said. "You knew how you were treated after a win and how you were treated after a loss. You then had to form your own philosophy on the fly."
Stone came under the guidance of C. Vivian Stringer, a Hall of Fame coach, during her senior year at Iowa. "She impacted me because she was a mother, a wife, a teacher and a coach," Stone said. "That's me. I'm a mother, I'm a wife of 22 years, I'm a teacher and I'm a coach. When I started, I taught and coached."
Stone coached basketball and softball at Cornell College. "We didn't have maintenance people, so I also swept the court," she said. "I had to hire my own stat crew; I had football players running the clock. I had to call and get the referees assigned. I did all the scheduling and I was also the trainer."
All in a day's work.
All in a career's mission.
"You learn a lot through your travels," Stone said. "The thing is, when I started I was 22 and I was working with 19 to 22-year-olds every single day. Well, my players are still that age, but I've gotten older. I'm 48. I'll be 49 in August.
"With that said, the players are not the same as they were back when I started coaching. They're the same age - they're 19 to 22 - but they're smarter and they're more talented today. And you have to adjust to them."
Stone spent three seasons at Cornell before moving on. At each of her next two coaching stops before reaching the Badgers - 12 years at UW-Eau Claire and three years at Drake - there were mileStone games worth revisiting.
|Coach Stone's Milestone Victories
| First game
|| Upper Iowa, L, 77-69 (2 OT)
| First win
|| Wartburg, 69-49
| 10th win
|| Coe, 70-39
| 25th win
|| Wartburg, 68-65
| 50th win
|| UW-Whitewater, 76-61
| 75th win
|| UW-Superior, 89-34
| 100th win
|| UW-Whitewater, 87-85 (2 OT)
| 200th win
|| UW-Whitewater, 75-47
| 300th win
|| UW-La Crosse, 84-42
| 400th win
|| Idaho State, 85-73
| 500th win
|| Indiana, 75-49
In the 1997 NCAA Division III national championship game, Eau Claire faced New York University at the NYU gym. "We had all these Wisconsin farm kids playing in New York City," Stone recalled. "I'll never forget that the visitor's locker room at NYU was a racquetball court. That's what they had for facilities."
The title came down to one play - a buzzer-beater from NYU's Marsha Harris, a two-time All-American and the winner of the 1998 Walter Byers Award. "I will never forget her name - Marsha Harris - she's a doctor now," Stone said. "And I'll never forget talking to my team after having just lost at the buzzer."
What was here message? "I told my players I loved them and I was very proud of them," Stone said. "I told them that there was nothing to be ashamed of --- being No. 2. That ball went in. It could have gone out and we would have been the national champs. We are who we are and we had a great ride."
In 2002, Stone guided Drake, the No. 7 seed, to an upset victory over Baylor, the No. 2 seed, on the latter's home floor in Waco, Texas that advanced the "Cinderella'' Bulldogs to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.
Carla Bennett had 29 points and Stephanie Schmitz scored 19, including a 3-pointer that pushed Drake into a 74-70 lead with just 1:15 left. "That was a deadly, step-back 3 from Stephanie," Stone said of Schmitz-Janke, a three-year assistant and now the director of basketball operations at Wisconsin.
"It was a very memorable year for us," Stone went on. "We had one player with cancer and another with a brain tumor. One of our girls lost her mom and our best player was out for the year. We overcome a lot of adversity to get where we were - we finished off that season with seven players at the Sweet 16."
That was definitely a mileStone victory. "You can remember wins and losses, but mostly you remember the players," Stone emphasized. "Some of your former players are coaching now. Others have gone on to great things. My own kids today are at the age of the kids that I coach. It has been a great run."
All coaches have sounding boards. Someone who understands what they're going through. Someone who can offer encouragement. Someone who can listen without passing judgement. For Stone, the list includes UW athletic director Barry Alvarez, men's coach Bo Ryan and men's hockey coach Mike Eaves, among others.
"When I have a question about coaching I talk to the coaches here," Stone said. "There's no need for me to call anybody else. If you're in a losing streak, you've got support. If you're in a winning streak, you've got support. You can have great conversations with people who have been in the trenches with you."
So what makes this team so special? "Knowing that you can go through adversity and respond is one thing," said Stone, alluding to a seven-game nonconference losing streak. "It also comes down to senior leadership. Our seniors have put the team on their back, and kept us together and focused."
Following practice last week, Stone tried to bring some context to her mileStones and career. "It's because of the players that I've been able to stay in this business so long," she said. "And this has been one of my most enjoyable years. They've really been a joy to be around. The players keep you young."
One of her seniors, Lin Zastrow, walked past Stone on the way to the locker room. She was wearing a practice jersey with "Team Unity" on the back.
"It's not just about me, it's about these guys. I'm thrilled for that one right there," said Stone, motioning to Zastrow. "To see the growth and development of these young women, that's where I find my joy. Those are my rewards."