NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Vanderbilt has hired Shea Ralph away from UConn to help revive the Commodores’ struggling women’s basketball program, which hasn’t reached the NCAA Tournament since 2014.
Athletic director Candice Lee announced the hiring Tuesday, a week after firing Stephanie White following five seasons. Ralph will be introduced at a news conference Wednesday.
“Coach Ralph has earned the opportunity to take the reins of our women’s basketball program and transform it into what we all know is possible,” Lee said. “She knows what winning looks like, and she has the background and experience, as both a player and a coach, to develop our student-athletes into champions.”
Ralph has been an assistant with the Huskies since 2008, and she helped lead UConn to 13 consecutive Final Fours and six NCAA championships. She helped with recruiting and player development. She spent five seasons as an assistant coach at Pittsburgh, which won at least 22 games in each of her last three seasons.
She said she’s always been motivated and inspired by people passionately pursuing excellence.
“Vanderbilt’s rich, storied tradition of excellence speaks for itself, but I believe what sets us apart is the people,” Ralph said. “I am so excited to work alongside our amazing community in elevating our women’s basketball program back to an elite level.”
Ralph, who graduated from Connecticut in 2001, was captain of the Huskies’ 2000 national championship team and was named MVP of that Final Four. She also was an All-American and the 2000 Big East Player of the Year.
A knee injury kept her from playing in the WNBA after she was drafted by the Utah Starzz in 2001.
UConn coach Geno Auriemma congratulated Ralph on her first head coaching job and said everyone at UConn is excited for her.
“Shea has had a huge impact on the UConn women’s basketball program, as both a player and a coach,” Auriemma said. “We’re going to miss her tremendously – she brought passion and energy to everything she did in Storrs. But we know she’s going to do amazing things at Vanderbilt and we wish her the best.”
Ralph takes over a program that hasn’t reached the NCAA Tournament in seven years despite a history featuring 26 berths, 15 trips to the Sweet 16, five Elite Eights and a Final Four in 1993.
Vanderbilt opted out of the season in January with a roster thinned because of COVID-19 issues, injuries, one player with myocarditis and another recovering from an ACL injury. Three starters transferred after the season, two of them graduates.
Lee, who had the interim tag taken off last May as athletic director, played basketball for Vanderbilt from 1998-2002, when the Commodores made back-to-back Elite Eights.
Vanderbilt recently announced a $300 million project to improve football and basketball facilities and a new Vandy United Fund to raise money for athletics programs. Women’s basketball is slated to get its own dedicated practice court along with improvements to the locker room and offices.
AP Sports Writer Pat Eaton-Robb in Connecticut contributed to this report.
More AP women’s college basketball coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball