Women’s basketball head coach Jenerrie Harris looks to continue building the program in her third season at the helm. (Courtesy of UMass Lowell Athletics)
Just entering its fourth year of Division I play, the UMass Lowell women’s basketball program is aptly headed by a woman whose story aligns with the River Hawks’ transition.
Jenerrie Harris, a native of Columbus, Ohio, played college hoops as a walk-on at the University of Kentucky. From there, Harris served as an assistant coach for a successful Navy team. She helped to propel Navy to three NCAA tournaments.
After being recruited by former Chancellor Marty Meehan and UMass Lowell Athletic Director Dana Skinner, Harris left her assistant coaching position to take over as head coach for the newly Division I River Hawks.
“The idea of being a head coach for the first time was appealing to me at a place like UMass Lowell was because they were also going through this transition and learning at the Division I level,” Harris said.
After their first year of Division I play, the River Hawks earned a 5-23 record during the 2013-14 season, the year before Harris took over.
Harris gave a nod of respect to her successors and those she worked with early on in Lowell. “I believed [in] the vision of our team at that time. They had specific goals. That was encouraging, and I wanted to be a part of it,” she said.
Harris quickly got to work focusing on building relationships with her players. Having gone through a coaching change during her own playing days, Harris made it an objective to have all players feel confident and excited in the changes coming to the program.
“I wanted to feel like those players were my players,” coach Harris said.
At the helm of the team, Harris has led the squad to an overall record of 18-39 and America East record of 8-24 going into her third season.
Under her leadership, the River Hawks have seen two alumni turn professional in European leagues.
“It’s neat when you get to be part of something special; it always felt special. It was unique,” said Harris on UMass Lowell’s appeal.
Harris has been instrumental during the River Hawks’ transition into Division I. Despite a losing record last season, the team still boasted some of the best statistics in the conference, including the top performance in three pointers and the number 10 point-scorer in the conference, Lindsey Doucette. Returning forward Kayla Gibbs lead the America East in offensive rebounds and completed shots.
“I definitely believe that we are a program that can be successful in the America East,” Harris said.
Frequently crediting the team, not herself, with the success that they have had and the growth that they have achieved so far, Harris said that, especially at the start, she would, “rely really heavily on our returners and the people who have been here…they know where we started, they know what the expectations are of the program.”
Never one to take credit for the team’s accomplishment, the head coach was sure to note her pride in the team.
“I’m proud of them… We still have some growing to do because they’re still trying to find their confidence,” said coach Harris.
So far, the River Hawks’ road to success has been rocky. Despite strong players and frequently close games last year, the team was unable to match the success of the 2014-15 season.
However, these moments seem to be growing pains as the transition enters its final year. The combination of a coach new to the top position and a team new to Division I play is coming to fruition as the team and coach gain experience together.
Harris commented on the duel investments from the program and herself.
“You’re willing to invest in a young coach and believe in me as I grow, and I want to invest in you guys as a program and as a school who’s also learning and growing as you develop into this Division I school,” coach Harris said.
About the partnership, in both its past and its future, Harris said, “I just felt like our roads and our paths were parallel,” she said.