A memorable 15 years for Coach Jeff Walz and the University of Louisville women’s basketball program. Banners celebrating the program’s accomplishments abound, wall to wall, at the Planet Fitness Center Kueber Center practice facility on Floyd StreeT.
The three Final Fours, the Conference titles. Everything but an NCAA championship flag. Walz has built Cardinal women’s basketball into a national contender year in and year out.
Last season the Cardinals lost to eventual champion Stanford in the regional finals after leading most of the game. In 2019 Louisville lost to Mississippi State in the Final Four in overtime. Over the last four seasons Louisville is 122-15.
UofL Athletic Director Vince Tyra recently extended Walz’ contract for another seven years.
“It’s hard to believe it’s been 15 years,” said Walz this week. “It’s hard to stay someplace for five these days. Patience is not something that people have much of any more. If you don’t win, they want you out. They think the next best thing is coming through the door.”
Walz doesn’t have to worry about any replacements, especially with the group of players returning from last years 26-4 team. Hailey Van Lith, Olivia Cochran, Ahlana Smith, Liz Dixon, Kianna Smith and Mykasa Robinson all started or saw lots of action. Throw in transfer Emily Engsiler from Syracuse and graduate student Chelsie Hall from Vanderbilt and a talented freshman group and you have a loaded roster.
Louisville was voted Sixth in a preseason poll and second in the Atlantic Coast Coast Conference. North Carolina State is the league favorite.
“I look back to year one,” said Walz. “I can remember saying 1Oh my God. What in the world have we done. I don’t know how we are going to make this work in changing a culture into what we wanted to try and do. It’s amazing what we have been able to accomplish here.’” Walz is (365-108) over those 15 years.
“Let’s try to have winning teams year in and year out,” said Walz. “Not just one good team every four, five years. Can we get to a Sweet 16 consistently. They’d never been there for. Now the emails I get is…..what in the world is going on. How have we lost in the Elite Eight. Expectations have changed.”
Walz welcomes those expectations. He has changed the culture. It shows in his record and the players he has recruited. Angel McCaughtry was already here when Walz arrived. Shoni Shimmel, Misha Hines-Allen, Asia Durr and Van Lith were big time recruits. Walz saw something in Dana Evans who turned into an outstanding guard.
“Our goals are fighting to get to a Final Four,” said Walz. “Once you get there you’ve got a chance to compete for a national championship.”
Walz says the contract extension helps him in recruiting. He can go to a high school sophomore and assure them he will be the coach while they are at Louisville. “We’re recruiting against elite programs as well,” said Walz. “Recruiting hasn’t gotten any easier. To be able to go into a home and talk to kids and parents and say I’ve got a seven year contract that I’m going to be here through your time here is really important.”
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South Carolina, Stanford, Connecticut, Maryland and North Carolina State are the preseason top five. The ACC has four teams in the top 25, including Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech.
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Walz celebrated his 50th birthday Tuesday. His team singing Happy Birthday and presenting him with a chocolate ice cream cake during his media day press conference.