First-year head coach Ashley Langford has never held this position before, but she comes from a winning culture — the key as the Stony Brook women’s basketball team eyes another successful season after last year’s first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance.
Langford spent four years at James Madison University (JMU), where the Dukes went 91-31 and won three regular-season Colonial Athletic Association titles. She was an assistant for three years before becoming an associate head coach for the 2020-21 season.
“JMU was such a great situation for me that I wouldn’t just leave to go anywhere,” Langford said in an interview with The Statesman. “I’m a believer in fit. I think that when you find the right fit, you thrive, you excel and you just break out. You can be in some other situations and you can be really good, but you might not thrive, but JMU was my fit.”
Langford believes she found the right fit with Stony Brook because of the school’s high academic standards and the team’s winning culture. A Zoom call with Director of Athletics Shawn Heilbron and Senior Associate Athletic Director for Compliance Debbie DeJong also played a role, as Langford was drawn to their energy.
“After we got off the Zoom, I was like, ‘Well, I hope they call me back,’” she said.
Six months later, Langford is leading the team that was picked to finish in first place in the America East preseason poll. Along with the pressure that comes with becoming a head coach, she welcomes the high expectations for her team.
“We’re still going to practice every single day like we were picked tenth,” Langford said. “We haven’t done anything, and every year is different. So, I really try to make them understand that we just have to continue to get better at what we’re doing and that we’re only focused on the next opponent and we’re not looking too far ahead.”
Her biggest challenge prior to the season was getting adjusted to her new home and team.
“I’m not completely settled, but I just tell people I’m as settled as I’m going to be,” she said. “I’ve just got to keep moving forward.”
While Langford says that getting to know the team has been a challenge, she seems to have great chemistry with her players. She describes herself as more of a player’s coach and wants to build relationships with her players that last beyond their collegiate careers.
“I want them to feel connected to me. I want them to know that I care about them,” she said. “I’m here to help them grow and be their best, and it’s all about how I make them feel and how I grow them here during this process. So, if I’m not connected and we don’t have a relationship, I’m not getting that invite to the wedding.”
While Langford has been working on getting to know her players off the court, she’s learned that they have a lot to offer on it. Despite the absence of last year’s scoring and assists leader Asiah Dingle and blocks leader Hailey Zeise, Langford is excited about her personnel.
“I think my system and the way I’m doing our offense this year fits who we have returning because we can go a lot of different ways in which we can just really be versatile,” Langford said. “Literally, I can say confidently all five on the court can get a bucket in our offense, which, to me, is fun … I also think the way we’re playing is free-flowing. It allows players to just go make plays and I think that the players are buying into that.”
Langford has been vocal about wanting to be a great defensive team and letting her players make plays in transition. She inherits the fourth-ranked scoring defense in the NCAA and takes pride in stopping opposing offenses.
“I’m going to look at you and say, ‘Score on us. Try to score,’” she said. “I love when we get stops or there’s a 30-second violation or we take a charge. That kind of stuff fires me up because I think it deflates the opponent. I think it really makes them feel a little inferior.”
While the players had to adjust to Langford’s defensive rotations, she also had to adapt her plans to her players’ strengths. She noticed her players like to try to steal the ball, which is not usually a big part of her defense, but she added some schemes to fit the team’s aggressive defensive nature.
As the season opener approached, Langford was not feeling anxious about beginning her first season as a head coach. She stepped in for JMU’s head coach, Sean O’Regan, for the two games he missed because of COVID-19. The Dukes split those games, but she got a taste of what to expect as a head coach and learned how she would be in her new role.
“I know it’ll be emotional because that’s just who I am,” Langford said. “I’ll be humbled. I know I will be, but once the ball tips off, it’s like I’m a different person. I get really intense and I get locked in.”
After a dominant 80-33 exhibition win over Adelphi, her blueprint worked well in the Seawolves’ season opener, scoring 23 fast break points and 21 points off of 21 turnovers in their 87-46 win over Delaware State.
With her first career victory under her belt, Langford is on the right track to continuing the Seawolves’ success and taking them a step further than they went last year.
“The bar last year was set pretty high,” she said, “and I’m trying to exceed that bar.”