Tweet. Stromme doesn't like his team's defensive intensity.
Tweet. Get tougher. Be poised. Practice like you play.
Stromme returns to his alma mater to change the expectations that have accompanied the Ole women's basketball program for so many years: The Oles would be middle-of-the-pack conference contenders, if there were such a thing. They would sometimes be competitive; other times they would be severely outplayed.
In their last five years, the Oles have finished seventh or worse in the MIAC. Over that stretch, they have totaled only 34 wins (.382 winning percentage). That was just how things were, which seemed to be okay.
An impressive resume
Stromme's coaching resume is consistent with winning, and ideal for a program that is eager to earn a place on the college basketball map. He is fresh off a brief stint as interim head coach at Division II University of Minnesota-Duluth, where he amassed a 16-15 record and a trip to the NCC playoff semifinals. Prior to his period as head coach, Stromme assisted his sister at UMD for 17 seasons (1985-02). Over that stretch, the Bulldogs went 370-159 -- good for a .703 winning percentage -- and advanced to 13 national tournaments.
Stromme assisted Pam Borton at the University of Minnesota, helping the women to a 95-37 (.742) record, including a Final Four appearance in 2003-04 and two Sweet Sixteen appearances.
Everywhere he has been, Stromme has been a winner. But, as Stromme points out, the demands placed upon a Division-I or II coach are not suitable for someone that values family life as much as basketball.
"I have a young family," said Stromme of why he returned to Northfield. "I found that the demands that are placed on Division-I coaching are not real conducive with a family life. It got down to the decision between making a living or making a life. I just felt that this would give me a great opportunity to build a life with my family."
The Division-I life, according to Stromme, is simply too demanding. At the 'U,' specifically, the season started the first day of school. Assistants ran conditioning sessions, analyzed game and practice tape, and were on the road recruiting top athletes on many off days. Basketball was all that mattered.
Stromme speaks repeatedly about his wife and children (ages 10, 8 and 3), but not in the sense that they are isolated entities once he arrives home from a day on the job in St. Olaf's Skoglund Gymnasium. He wants them to be there with him, every step of the way.
"When I was here in '83, coach (Tom) Porter, coach (Bob) Gelle and coach (Jim) Dimick had established great programs throughout the years and I always admired the type of family life they were able to continue," Stromme said. "They had their families be a part of the entire St. Olaf College community. That to me was a tremendous attraction."
On the court, Stromme is eager to change the expectations for his group. However, he is hesitant to term his job a rebuilding effort, given the type of program former head coach Pat Buresh was able to foster.
"Coach Buresh, in the 19 years of her service, truly did foster a great basketball program," Stromme said. "It didn't necessarily translate into wins and losses, but I think she has a great legacy of players that have played in the program that have valued the academic and athletic experiences at St. Olaf. I know athletes that have been excited to come back to campus."
A different mindset will come, Stromme says, from hard work and paying attention to detail, especially in practice.
"Walking into practice the first day, I'd like our team to have a sense of discipline," he said. "We're going to work hard, we're going to take it extremely seriously. We are going to prioritize our time, balancing the academics with athletics. We want to make sure that when we compete, we compete at our highest level. We want to make sure we're bought in and competing as a team."
Stats don't lie
So far, the stats are a telling tale. At the Colorado College Tip-Off Classic held on Nov. 16 and 17, the women won the rebounding battle in each of their games (a 53-47 loss to CC and a 59-46 loss to McMurray University, respectively), grabbing 47 boards their first game and 31 their second. On Monday night, the Oles earned their first win under Stromme. They have held the rebounding edge in three of their first four games. The significance: last year, the Oles were eighth in the MIAC in rebounding margin (-1.2 per game). This year, the Oles are second in the conference in that category, averaging 8.2 more rebounds per game than their opponents.
"I don't look at statistics, except for field goal percentage defense and rebounding," Stromme said when asked about the improvement. "Those tell a great tale of success. I want our team to have a defensive mentality. If you hold a team to 30 or 35 percent field goal shooting and outrebound teams, that should translate into giving yourself a chance to win every game, even if you don't shoot particularly well."
Check. So far, the Oles are second in the conference in field goal percentage defense, an improvement from an 11th place finish in that category last year.
"We are going to play hard and really make teams work to score against us," Stromme said.
A newfound toughness
On Tuesday, St. Olaf dropped their conference-opener to Hamline 70-54. The Pipers held the rebounding edge 41-38, and Stromme was, to say the least, not pleased.
"Sink your teeth into that ball!" he shouted from his place on the Ole bench following two-straight possessions in which the ball was turned over as a result of soft play underneath.
When his most polished athletes came to the bench for a breather, he consistently asked if they were tired.
"Yes," first-year guard Jamie Erdahl replied.
"Wrong answer," countered Stromme. "Sometimes, you have to lie."
In the waning moments of Tuesday's defeat, the first-year coach had seen enough soft basketball. He pointed at Terin Euerle, who has accumulated only 15 minutes thus far this season.
"Are you going to compete?" Of course she said yes.
Forces down low
At the 'U,' Stromme's main responsibilities were defense and post players. He coached Janelle McCarville to be one of the country's most proficient inside presences. McCarville ranks in the top-five in the Gopher women's basketball recordbook in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. She also holds the NCAA record for most rebounds in an NCAA tournament with 75 in five games. Following her career with the 'U,' she was drafted by the WNBA's New York Liberty with the number one overall pick.
While it is unlikely that any St. Olaf post player will compete past their collegiate career, the Oles' roster is littered with size that could provide the scoring presence that has traditionally been lacking. Newcomer Elyse Erickson '09 has been a force thus far, leading the team in scoring (17.0) and rebounding (8.0).
Janelle McCarville? Probably not. A solid Division III athlete that is benefiting from Stromme's experience and teaching? Absolutely.
A new perspective
With change comes new expectations, new goals and virtually a new women's basketball program.
If the women lose, they'll lose with a fight.
"There is a difference between losing and getting beat," Stromme said. "If we get beat by giving a great effort and doing everything we can by competing & each and every game, then okay. Losing is when you get down early, you fold the tents, you don't have that mentality, you don't walk into the opposing gym knowing you have a shot to win."
This year, the expectation is simple: expect to win.
"It's a new perspective. Change is always difficult. In many respects, though, change can be good. There is a sense of urgency that I hope (the seniors) feel. That's a good thing."