NIU's Bennett Unveils Staff with Strong Illinois Ties

GO HUSKIES Kathi Bennett has filled her staff with coaches that hold strong Illinois ties.
Kathi Bennett has filled her staff with coaches that hold strong Illinois ties.

May 28, 2010

DeKALB - Strong Illinois ties, an emphasis on shared values, and a focus on relationships will define Northern Illinois Head Women's Basketball Coach Kathi Bennett's staff, the 17-year coaching veteran revealed Friday with the announcement of her three assistant coaches.

Former Illinois Associate Head Coach Marsha Frese, former Milwaukee Assistant Coach Joe Conroy and NIU Hall of Famer E.C. Hill, who was retained from the previous coaching staff, will work together as assistant coaches on Bennett's staff. The former national coach of the year believes she has found the right mix with her new colleagues.

"Our chemistry is great, and I think that will feed to our team," Bennett said.

Renowned for her top-notch recruiting classes, Frese comes to Northern Illinois with nine years of experience as an assistant and associate head coach. She opened her career in the Mid-American Conference at Ball State in 1999, and served stints at Maryland and Minnesota before spending four years at Illinois. After two years as an assistant with the Illini, she was promoted to associate head coach, a role that she served in until 2007. She spent the 2009-10 season as an assistant coach at Ball State.

Frese brought in top-15 recruiting classes at both Maryland and Minnesota, including the signing of two high school all-Americans. She has also shown the ability to recruit to the MAC. As an assistant at Ball State, Frese signed the conference's 2001 Freshman of the Year Johna Goff in her first recruiting class.

"I'm very fortunate to have Marsha's feel for the game, her experience building programs, and her experience recruiting the Chicago area from her time at Illinois and Ball State," Bennett said.

Frese's sister, Brenda, won a national championship as the head coach at Maryland in 2006 with a team that scored 83.3 points per game. Frese's offensive knowledge will balance the defense-first mentality preached by Bennett.



"Her family is known for offense, and that doesn't hurt either," Bennett said with a smile.

A native of Spring Valley, Ill., Conroy returns to familiar territory as a member of the women's basketball staff in DeKalb. Conroy worked as Director of Basketball Operations under former NIU Head Coach Carol Hammerle from 1998-2000.

"Joe is a Huskie through-and-through," Bennett said. "He has been in this area before and absolutely loves Northern Illinois University. He even has a watch that says `Once a Huskie, Always a Huskie.'"

Since his first stint at Northern Illinois, Conroy has added years of experience as a Division I assistant in the Midwest. He was the number one assistant and recruiting coordinator for two seasons at Eastern Illinois. He also spent three seasons as the top assistant at Milwaukee, building a foundation for the team's second NCAA Tournament appearance.

"He has a passion for the game that matches or exceeds my own, and I know that because I've seen that," Bennett said. "Every program he has been at has excelled when he was there. They excelled because he is one of the most passionate and hard-working individuals I know."

A recent inductee into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, Hill will enter her sixth year as an assistant coach at NIU. Hill, a two-time All-American as a player for the Huskies, has coached six of Northern Illinois' 1,000-point scorers. In her first two years, she coached Huskie standout Stephanie Raymond, who became the first Huskie to be drafted by the WNBA. As a Chicago native with her jersey retired at Whitney Young Magnet High School, Hill's ties to the Second City will remain a critical piece of the NIU recruiting puzzle.

"Having E.C. stay is a blessing," Bennett said. "I spent a day with her in Chicago, and the relationships that she has built up in the city and in this surrounding area are pretty special."

Bennett also pointed out that Hill, who led the Huskies to the NCAA Tournament in all three seasons as a player, has created a special bond with the current Huskie women's basketball players.

"She was a coach they really respected and cared about and wanted, and I think that says a lot about her," Bennett said. "She told me she wants these players to have the same experience she had when she was a Huskie. That says a lot."

Bennett was named the ninth head women's basketball coach at NIU, May 18. She brings 19 years of coaching experience, including one national championship and nine trips to the NCAA Tournament, to DeKalb.

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