As Anne Donovan approached San Antonio Stars head coach Dan Hughes following the Connecticut Sun’s win Tuesday night, the cameras inside Mohegan Sun Arena tracked her every step. Hughes and Donovan shook hands and shared a few words – like almost every congratulatory postgame greeting. But what the moment signified was much more than just one coach congratulating the other on a win.
The victory was Anne Donovan’s 200th win, putting her in an exclusive group with three other coaches – Van Chancellor, Mike Thibault, and Hughes.
For Donovan, though, the new bullet point on her career resume wasn’t of utmost importance. What mattered more was the final score, which moved Connecticut within a half game of the fourth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
“It was a good win against San Antonio,” Donovan said. “It was a much needed win for our team. That’s really what the moment meant. It just means that I’ve been a part of a lot of successful teams, I’ve been involved with some incredible players and part of some tremendous organizations. That’s what the number signifies. It doesn’t signify anything more than a really good set of memories.”
Still, Donovan’s coaching accomplishments has her on a list full of other women that have made history this summer. Tuesday’s win made her the first female WNBA coach with at least 200 wins. She joins former WNBA great Becky Hammon, who became the first female head coach at NBA Summer League, new Sacramento Kings assistant Nancy Lieberman and Iowa Energy assistant Nicki Gross, on a list a women making history and shattering barriers in basketball. In football, the trend has continued with Jen Welter and the Arizona Cardinals.
“I think that the significance of the WNBA is that it has given women a different platform,” Donovan said, “and a different level of respect as professionals, both as players and also in our coaching. I think it has been a good training ground and over time – it’s a slow steady progress – we’ve been able to open some doors. But it definitely is significant in the trajectory of what we’re trying to do in the profession.”
What Donovan has done this season with the Sun is just one bullet point on her extensive resume. After a year that earned them a lottery pick, the Sun started off hot and were the top team in the East early in the season. But eventually the Sun cooled off and began to struggle.
Despite their deficiencies, Connecticut has been competitive in almost every loss. Their two largest margins of defeat have come at the hands of one of the Eastern Conference’s best teams — the Chicago Sky. And although they’re 3-7 in their last 10 games, Donovan has managed to have her gritty squad playing above the league average defensively.
“Clawing away. We’re trying to scratch and claw our way to the postseason,” said Donovan. “We started as a good defensive team and surprised a lot of people with how good our chemistry was early with six new players. And I think we went into a little bit of a lull and we’ve got a learning curve. One thing that has been consistent is we have really fought. In almost every game it’s been competitive for us, so not losing our confidence, I think, is the key in that lull that we had. I felt that we played really strongly and confident against San Antonio last time out. We just have to continue.”
The Sun have been guided by two third-year stars in Kelsey Bone and Alex Bentley. Bentley has excelled at the two guard spot and is averaging 14.3 points — the most in her career. Bone is having the best season of her young career and has been dominant in the post. Their performances in the first half of the season earned both Bone and Bentley their first All-Star nods.
“They come to battle every night,” Donovan said, “and they understand that with some of the losses that we had on our roster that they really needed to step up. And they, I think, took it personal that people were counting us out and have really stepped up and really led the way.”
If there’s one thing Donovan’s squad has shown at this point in the season, it’s that you certainly cannot count them out.