May 1, 2012
NOTRE DAME, Ind. -
Beth Cunningham, a former two-time All-America guard at the University of Notre Dame and the program's all-time leading scorer, has been named associate women's basketball coach for the Fighting Irish, head coach Muffet McGraw announced Tuesday. Cunningham returns to her alma mater following 11 seasons at Virginia Commonwealth University, including the past nine campaigns as the Rams' head coach. She fills the vacancy on the Fighting Irish coaching staff created when former associate head coach Jonathan Tsipis departed last month after nine seasons to become the head women's basketball coach at George Washington University.
"One of the things we've always tried to stress with our program is developing and maintaining the right chemistry, whether that be among our players or our staff," McGraw said. "When the opportunity came to welcome Beth back to our program, it made perfect sense. She is one of the true greats in Notre Dame women's basketball history, the consummate leader on the court and in the locker room. Both (associate coach) Carol (Owens) and I had the great fortune to coach Beth during her playing days, and (assistant coach) Niele (Ivey) was one of her teammates during our 1997 Final Four season, so there's already that built-in chemistry and comfort level among our staff. Beth is a proven winner, both as a player at the college and WNBA levels, and as a coach, and I couldn't be happier to have her joining our staff."
"I couldn't be more thrilled than to come back to the University of Notre Dame," Cunningham said. "To be a part of Coach McGraw's staff is something I've always dreamed about. I have tremendous passion and pride in the Notre Dame women's basketball program, and I believe it is a reflection of the high standards this great university embodies. Quite simply, I can't wait to continue everyone's efforts at Notre Dame towards winning national championships.
"I am also grateful for the opportunity and experiences I had during my 11 years at VCU," she continued. "I am so proud of what we accomplished as a program, and there is no way this would be possible without all of the hard work and dedication of our players, my staff and the VCU family."
The 36-year-old Cunningham took the VCU women's basketball program to new heights in her 11 seasons in Richmond, Va., spending one year as an assistant coach (2001-02) and another as associate head coach (2002-03) before assuming the head coaching duties prior to the 2003-04 campaign (at the time making her the youngest NCAA Division I head coach in the nation). She is the Rams' all-time leader in women's basketball coaching wins, having led VCU to a 167-115 (.592) record and postseason appearances in each of her final five seasons, including the program's first-ever NCAA Championship berth (an at-large selection in 2009). Under her tutelage, VCU also has averaged better than 22 wins per season since 2007-08, amassing three consecutive 20-win campaigns from 2008-10 (including back-to-back school-record 26-win seasons in 2007-08 and 2008-09) as part of the most successful four-year run in Rams' history.
A two-time Virginia Coach of the Year honoree by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Cunningham coached three WNBA Draft picks and two All-Americans, as well as two Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) Players of the Year and 18 all-conference selections during her tenure at VCU. Among her more notable pupils were Quanitra Hollingsworth, a first-round selection (ninth overall) in the 2009 WNBA Draft by the Minnesota Lynx (and now with the New York Liberty), and Courtney Hurt, a 2012 third-round selection by the Indiana Fever, who was among the nation's leaders in scoring and rebounding the past two seasons.
Much like her coaching career at VCU, Cunningham was a trailblazer during her playing days at Notre Dame from 1993-97 (when she competed under her maiden name of Beth Morgan), not only helping the Fighting Irish transition from the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (now the Horizon League) into the BIG EAST Conference in 1995-96, but then leading the program to the first of its four NCAA Women's Final Four appearances and a (then) record-setting 31-7 campaign as a senior in 1996-97. A two-time Associated Press and Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) honorable mention All-America choice, four-time first-team all-conference selection and two-year team captain, Cunningham sparked Notre Dame to a 97-32 (.752) record in her four seasons under the Golden Dome, including a pair of MCC regular season titles and the 1994 MCC postseason crown, as well as three NCAA Championship appearances (1994, 1996, 1997).
When all was said and done, Cunningham departed as the all-time leading scorer in Fighting Irish women's basketball history with 2,322 points, having set or tied 28 school records during her career, 11 of which she still holds, including career marks for points, scoring average (18.6 ppg.), double-figure scoring games (115) and 20-point games (56). She went to be a three-year veteran of the American professional basketball ranks, playing two seasons with the Richmond/Philadelphia Rage of the now-defunct American Basketball League (ABL) from 1997-98, and then one year with the WNBA's Washington Mystics in 2000 before embarking on her coaching career. Cunningham also has become a fixture in USA Basketball circles as both a player and coach, first suiting up for Team USA four times from 1996-99 (winning three medals including a gold with the '97 USA World University Games Team) and serving as the athlete representative on the USA Basketball Women's Junior National Team Committee since 2009 after spending time in a similar role on the USA Basketball Women's Collegiate Committee from 2005-08.
Cunningham graduated from Notre Dame in 1997 with a bachelor's degree in marketing from the top-ranked Mendoza College of Business. She then went on to earn her master's degree of education in sports leadership from VCU in 2003. Originally from Bloomington, Ind., Cunningham was a standout two-sport performer at Bloomington South High School, earning all-state honors in both basketball and tennis and subsequently being inducted into the Monroe County Sports Hall of Fame in June 2011. What's more, her father, Bob Morgan, was the longtime baseball coach at Indiana University from 1984-2005, leading the Hoosiers to more than 1,000 victories during his career.
Cunningham and her husband, Dan (a former practice player for the Notre Dame women's basketball program and a 1996 graduate of Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business), are the proud parents of a daughter, Margaret Jane, who will celebrate her first birthday in August.
Cunningham rejoins a Notre Dame program that went 35-4 in 2011-12, advancing to the NCAA national championship game for the second consecutive season and earning its second BIG EAST regular season title. The Fighting Irish are expected to have two starters and eight total players returning next season, along with a three-player freshman class that was ranked as high as third in the nation by All-Star Girls Report (and is a consensus top-10 class by all major recruiting services). It's the 16th consecutive year that the Fighting Irish have attracted a top-20 recruiting class, with Notre Dame being one of only three schools in the country that holds that distinction.
For more information on the Notre Dame women's basketball program, sign up to follow the Fighting Irish women's basketball Twitter pages (@ndwbbsid or @notredamewbb) or register for the Irish ALERT text-messaging system through the "Fan Center" pulldown menu on the front page at UND.com.
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