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SMC Basketball: Head coach Bender not retained by Saint Mary’s

Joe Meixell | Monday, April 3, 2006

Saint Mary’s declined to renew the contract option of head coach Steve Bender this weekend after his first season with the team – a season in which the Belles set a program record for wins in MIAA league play.

Saint Mary’s Sports Information director Stephen Hinkel told The Observer he could not comment on the particulars of the decision but that Bender’s contract was a year-by-year agreement, which the College has the option to renew after a review following each season.

Such a contract structure is the norm for all Saint Mary’s coaches, Hinkel said.

Bender was named MIAA coach of the year after leading the Belles to a 9-7 conference record – their first-ever winning record in league play – and an 11-15 overall record. Sophomore guard Alison Kessler finished fifth in the conference in scoring with 14.2 points per game and was named to the All-MIAA first team.

The Observer was unable to contact Bender Sunday.

Belles assistant coach Jill Bodensteiner, who has coached for Saint Mary’s since 2001, said she too would not return to the team.

“I am shocked and disappointed by the recent turn of events,” Bodensteiner said in an e-mail to The Observer Sunday. “We just completed the most successful season in Saint Mary’s College basketball history – on and off the court.”

It was unclear Sunday if any other members of the coaching staff would return to the team for the 2006-07 season. Members of the College’s Public Relations office were unavailable for comment.

Athletic director Lynn Kachmarik notified players of the decision in a team meeting Friday. Kachmarik and Pat Pierce, the team’s faculty advisor, were unavailable for comment Sunday.

“In the end, the only reason I have coached at Saint Mary’s for five years is because of the student-athletes, and their well-being is all that matters to me right now,” Bodensteiner said. “We (the former coaching staff) have talked extensively to the 14 student-athletes involved and they are shocked, hurt, angry and sad.”

Several players contacted by The Observer Sunday declined to comment on the situation.

Bodensteiner said the 2005-06 coaching staff would support members of the team in any way it could.

“All throughout this past season, Coach Bender said over and over that this team was a family,” she said. “That is not going to change now.”

Eric Retter contributed to this report.