Suns' Foe Making Third Straight Elite Eight Trip

For Steve Hancock, serving as the head women’s basketball coach at Franklin Pierce University (N.H.) has been even better the second time around. Hancock and the nationally second-ranked Ravens (31-1) will face the nationally fourth-ranked Arkansas Tech Golden Suns (31-2) in the national quarterfinals of the NCAA Division II Tournament at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday. Hancock first served as Franklin Pierce’s head coach from 1988-96. He oversaw the Ravens’ transition to NCAA Division II membership, and he led Franklin Pierce to three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances from 1992-94. He left the program in 1996 as its all-time wins leader (135) and continued his career as an educator in the local public schools. He retired in 2006 after a 35-year career in education as a teacher, coach and administrator.

That could have very easily been the end of the story, except for the fact that Franklin Pierce head coach Mark Swasey needed an assistant coach. And Hancock still had the itch to coach.

So Hancock joined the Ravens’ coaching staff, and ever since then the Franklin Pierce program has steadily climbed the ranks of NCAA Division II women’s basketball.

The Ravens were 17-11 in 2006-07. They jumped to 27 wins in 2007-08 and won the NCAA Division II East Region championship.

Then came 2008-09, a 29-6 overall record and a berth in the NCAA Division II national championship game.

When Swasey departed to become the head coach at California University (Pa.) in June 2009, the Ravens did not look far for his replacement.

“While I wasn’t necessarily looking to move up, I welcome the opportunity to take over a program that is in great position to continue to compete at a high level,” said Hancock upon receiving the job last June. “It’s not going to be easy taking over a program that is coming off a national championship appearance, but we have a great group of young women in the program and I am looking forward to moving over a seat and continuing to work with them.”

The greatest of those young women in terms of basketball ability is without a doubt Johannah Leedham.

The 5-foot-11 senior forward from Ellesmere Port, England, has scored 3,003 career points, which is an NCAA Division II record and the eighth-highest career scoring total for any level of NCAA women’s basketball.

This season, Leedham leads NCAA Division II in scoring (27.1 points per game) and she ranks second in the nation in steals (4.3 per game).

This is the third consecutive year in which Leedham has led Franklin Pierce to the NCAA Elite Eight.

“It’s nice when you’re going to war and you have the biggest cannon,” said Hancock of Leedham. “She just elevates everyone’s game around her. She’s very unselfish and is one of the leaders in rebounding, passing, scoring and stealing.”

Arkansas Tech head coach Dave Wilbers is also impressed by Leedham, who will become a four-time All-America selection when this year’s awards are announced.

“She is a great player,” said Wilbers of Leedham. “She is the best Division II player I’ve seen this year. She is a hard match-up, but I think Arkansas Tech is going to show up and we can be a tough match-up too.”

Photo courtesy of Franklin Pierce University Athletics Web site.