Brian Neal takes over the Wittenberg women’s basketball program during an unprecedented time. The coronavirus pandemic means he doesn’t know when he’ll be able to meet his players in person.
“That’s all up in the air,” said Neal on Tuesday, hours after Wittenberg announced his hiring. “What you’re doing is learning how to communicate via Zoom. I’m a big phone call, Facetime guy with players individually. That’s what I’ve been doing today and what I’ll continue to do, just building a rapport on the phone until we can get them on campus and I can get to know them personally.”
Neal comes to Wittenberg after one season as an assistant coach at Eastern Illinois University. Prior to that stint, he compiled a record of 76-108 in six seasons as the head coach at Xavier. He took over that program during its transition to the Big East Conference.
Neal began his tenure at Xavier working as an assistant coach for two seasons. While he has coached at the Division I level for the last nine seasons, he has a long history at the lower divisions as well. He was an assistant coach at D-III Wilmington College from 1992-98 and at Northern Kentucky from 1998-2004. The Norse won a D-II national title in 2000.
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In 2004, Neal got his first head coaching job at Thomas More University. In seven seasons, he compiled a record of 171-31, guiding the program to five NCAA D-III tournament appearances and trips to the Sweet 16 in 2009 and 2011.
“The thing I love about Division III is the players are doing it because they want to, because they love it,” Neal said. “That’s very refreshing to be around on a daily basis.”
Neal replaces Kelly Mahlum, who stepped down April 10 after accepting the head coaching job at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn. Mahlum had been on the staff since 2011, first as a volunteer assistant coach and then as associate head coach starting in the 2013-14 season. She became interim head coach in 2016 and was elevated to head coach the following season.
Mahlum finished her tenure with an overall record of 63-45 and a 37-27 mark in North Coast Athletic Conference play. The Tigers advanced to the NCAC tournament final in 2018. Last season, Wittenberg finished 19-8 and 11-5 in the NCAC.
Neal inherits a roster that returns three of its top four scorers: Kristie Kalis (13.1 points per game); Delaney Williams (104); and Abigail Yunker (10.4). All three will be seniors in the 2020-21 season.
Neal did get to visit campus during his interview process, but he was also on campus earlier in his career. When he was the head coach at Thomas More, he brought his team to Wittenberg to play the Tigers in 2006, when they were coached by Pam Evans Smith, and in 2008, when Sarah Jurewicz coached the Tigers.
Neal learned about Wittenberg from those experiences and now will soon call Springfield home.
“I just like the fact that Wittenberg strives for excellence in everything they do,” Neal said.
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