May 3, 2012

Finoras Building A Program, Together

HARTSVILLE, S.C. – Jenny Finora laughs when people ask her how she could ever do it. Work with your husband. Is she crazy? The Coker College women’s basketball coach just shrugs off the remarks as she continues to build a program with her husband, Vic.

“It’s funny because I get that all the time,” said Jenny, who just finished her second season coaching the Cobras. “I wish I had a dime for every time someone asked me that. Coaching with Vic is so much fun. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

The Finoras bring a unique aspect to the world of coaching. Jenny is the head coach and Vic serves as her assistant. They share this rare combination in women’s basketball with only six other colleges in the country.

Jenny is originally from North Vernon, Ind., while Vic hails from St. Catherines, Ontario, just outside Niagara Falls. The two met while at the University of Kentucky, where Jenny was a four-year player and Vic a graduate assistant for the men’s basketball team. They were married in 2008.

After Kentucky, the two floated across the globe to coaching stops in Alabama before spending the past year in Iceland. They each enjoyed what they were doing – Vic was coaching a men’s team while Jenny was coaching and playing professionally – but a recurring theme continued to emerge wherever they went – they were apart more than together. That meant it was time to find something new.

Getting to Coker                                                                                

While looking to get back into the coaching realm in the states – and finding a place to be together – Jenny came across Coker. She flew to Hartsville from Iceland for the interview and fell in love with the place. The next step was getting Vic, who was offered a professional coaching position in Iceland at the same time, on board.

 “Once he came to visit Hartsville, he was sold,” said Jenny. “The thought of being together and being able to work together was too great of an opportunity to pass up.”

As usual, Vic agreed.

“It wouldn’t have worked for us to be that far apart,” he said. “We have to be together. Some people can do it, but we just can’t.”

Working together was somewhat of a new thing for the Finoras. They had to learn how to complement each other’s coaching style on and off the court, but it didn’t take long for them to get in sync. It’s not uncommon to hear Vic’s voice over Jenny’s if you are at a game, but that’s because he’s making sure Jenny’s instructions are heard by the whole team. Make no mistake, though, Jenny is the top dog and makes the final calls.

“It’s all her,” Vic says with a smile.

Being together is a big plus for these two, as well as Coker. The thing is, they can thoroughly trust one another with coaching decisions.  When it comes to an offensive play call, who to substitute, or what kind of player to recruit, Jenny and Vic know they can rely on each other to make the call. These factors are ones that they both knew would be to their advantage when they arrived on campus.

Turning things around

Jenny came to Coker in June 2010 and Vic arrived shortly after in July. Things weren’t easy from the start, as they inherited a team they didn’t recruit and went 5-21 in the first season. After the season, they hit the recruiting trail hard.

Turning around a program is part of the culture-changing atmosphere Coker athletics is experiencing these days.  The Finoras were tasked with reshaping the attitude and perception of the program. The first step was finding kids who love basketball.

“That was big for us because we wanted girls who enjoy playing,” said Vic. “We now have kids that come in the gym (and practice) on their own. They’re competitive in practice; they want to win drills. They get mad if their team loses in practice. We didn’t have that last year.”

New players were brought in, but things didn’t get any easier to start the second season. The team struggled to find its identity and chemistry, losing the first 12 games. The Cobras found life, though, going on a late-season run that was good enough to make the playoffs. They dropped a heartbreaking overtime game to North Greenville in the Conference Carolinas tournament quarterfinals, finishing the season with an overall record of 11-16 with an 11-6 mark in conference play. Reaching the postseason was a huge victory for the Finoras, the team and Coker.

“When we first qualified for playoffs, it gave me goosebumps,” Vic said. “We worked so hard to get to that point, and it seemed like it wasn’t going to happen. We were wondering what we were doing wrong as coaches. The kids stayed positive and really came around towards the end. I can’t wait for next year; we’re going to be really good.”

As more players the Finoras recruited have come in and meshed with the current roster, the team started winning and the atmosphere around campus changed. Making the playoffs was a big deal. People are talking and there is a buzz about the program. A great aspect about the Finoras is that their doors are always open. They share an office right outside the gym (you can’t go into the building without seeing them), and players and members of the community are welcome to stop by any time.

“We are big on building relationships,” said Jenny. “It starts with our recruits and their families. It’s all about making a connection. We like to be an outlet for our kids for anything. Our door is always open.”

Looking ahead

If you happen to catch them on the recruiting trails these days, you’ll notice something else happening with the couple – Jenny is pregnant. Their first child, a baby boy, is due in June. But don’t think that stopped her from coaching through the season and continuing to lock up prospects.

“It’s actually worked to our advantage,” Jenny said. “I’m proving to recruits that Vic and I are starting a family and building a foundation at Coker. We bought a house and are planning to be here for a while.”

The opportunity they’ve been given is win-win by all accounts. While Jenny admits to missing her time as a player, she is OK with how her situation turned out. Both are coaching, together, and are able to do be around the game they love.

“I feel so fortunate,” Jenny said. “I get to work with my spouse and we have a son on the way. What more could I ask for?”

Says Vic: “We’re together…that’s all that matters.”

*Note: Along with the Finoras, five other husband-wife combos exist in women’s college basketball: Jennifer Rizzotti and Bill Sullivan, University of Hartford; Caleb and Nicole Neiman, Kentucky Wesleyan College; Kellie and Jon Harper, North Carolina State; Tom and Nicki Collen, University of Arkansas; Leon and Dawn Neal, Evangel University; Kristy and Kelly Curry, Texas Tech.

For more information, contact Chris Dougherty, manager of athletics media relations, at 843-383-8018 or cdougherty@coker.edu.

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