EMPORIA — Toby Wynn doesn’t need a history lesson. He knows all about the tradition of Emporia State’s nationally renowned women’s basketball program and is well aware that, to a large degree, he is following no less than three coaching legends.
Pressure? You bet that’s pressure.
But for Wynn, who was introduced Monday as the seventh coach in ESU women’s history, this really isn’t anything new. Wynn replaced another icon some 13 years ago when he took over a Seward County Community College program that had experienced unrivaled feats under the direction of Jim Littell, now the women’s coach at Oklahoma State.
All Seward County’s women accomplished under Littell was to go 418-61 over a 14-year span, win the school’s first national championship in any sport with a 38-0 run in 2002 and capture nine Jayhawk Conference West titles. The program’s success earned Littell a spot in the NJCAA Hall of Fame in 2009.
So for all the success that the Hornets have enjoyed during the past two-plus decades under Cindy Stein, Brandon Schneider and Jory Collins, you’ll have to forgive Wynn for viewing his current situation through a bit of a been-there-done-that lens.
“Coach Littell had built a monster,” Wynn said. “And I know that Jory and Brandon have kind of done the same here as well, and Cindy even before them. I think it’s just one of those things where you’ve just got to put your head down and start being a grinder and just get the players in here that it’s going to take to win. I think at the end of the day you’ve got to have players who can make plays, so you’ve got to be able to recruit and win those battles.
“As far as the pressure, winning makes that a whole lot easier. I know it’s going to be difficult, but it’s something we’ve done our whole career.”
As previously mentioned, the Hornets have done plenty of winning in their own right. They reached NCAA Division II Final Fours under Collins, Schneider and Stein, with Schneider leading ESU to the school’s first national championship in 2010 and Stein guiding the 1997-98 team to a national runner-up finish and 33-1 record.
Schneider, who will begin his fourth season at Kansas later this year, is ESU’s winningest coach with a 306-72 record. Collins, who stepped down in March to reunite with former boss Scheider at KU, is second on the program’s win list with a 199-58 mark that includes six Sweet 16 appearances.
ESU athletic director Kent Weiser, whose staff vetted more than 130 applicants, cited a number of factors in explaining why he chose Wynn over “scores of qualified candidates.” He noted Wynn’s familiarity with ESU’s recruiting area, commitment to recruit athletes who value academics and strong community ties as major factors.
But Weiser also was impressed that Wynn was able to emerge from the enormous shadow cast by Littell when he took over the tradition-rich Seward program. In 13 seasons as Saints coach, Wynn amassed a 349-84 record that included four 30-win seasons, a third-place NJCAA finish in 2007 and appearances in the national quarterfinals each of the past two seasons.
In Weiser’s eyes, this clearly was a win-Wynn situation.
“I think that made him say, ‘Yeah, I’ve done this before and I know how to make that transition,’ ” Weiser said. “Not many people showed that same transition ability.”
Wynn, 42, is quite familiar with two of the architects of ESU’s vaunted women’s program. He has known Schneider since his childhood days in Booker, Texas — in fact, he said his mom once was coached by Schneider’s dad, Bob, who was head women’s coach at West Texas A&M from 1981-2006 — and maintains close relationships with both Schneider and Collins.
His charge now, however, is to make the ESU program his own, just like he did at Seward.
“I think the biggest thing is just trying to put your stamp on everything, kind of right from the get-go, honestly,” Wynn said. “Just making sure when you make a decision you stay committed to it and you just go with it and you trust that you know what you’re doing and it’s the right thing.
“There’s a lot of things here that will stay the same and won’t be much different,” he continued. “Probably at the end of the day the biggest thing that changes is maybe the style of play on the floor might be just a little bit different. That happened a little bit back then in ’05-06, and it might happen again next year as well.”
Wynn said his Seward teams generally featured up-tempo offenses that weren’t shy about hoisting 3-pointers and defenses that pressed frequently and tried to create chaos. His most recent team, which went 31-4, set NJCAA records for most 3-point field goals in a season and single game, the Saints connecting on 25 treys in a 130-48 victory against Colby CC on Feb. 21.
“I don’t know that it (that style) is going to work here until I get in here and see our team practice and play and compete and those kind of things,” Wynn said. “The bottom line is, as I told them, we just want to win and we’ll find the best way to do that.”
Wynn, who met his new team before Monday afternoon’s introductory news conference, inherits a Hornet squad that went 17-11 overall and 11-8 in the MIAA this year despite losing two seniors and a sophomore to injuries before the season started.
ESU loses two of its top five scorers — Jacee Kramer (11.0 ppg) and Marissa Preston (8.6) — but returns five players who started at least nine games as well as injured Hornets Addie Lackie, Kyrstie Miller and Daley Handy. Lackie and Miller were key starters in 2016-17 — Lackie ranking second on the team with 12.9 points per game and Miller, a Holton product, averaging 9.8 points and 6.4 rebounds.
The Hornets’ new leader is eager to guide the group and test himself against stiffer competition.
“You want to always try to advance,” Wynn said. “I think this gives me an opportunity to move up to a new level and compete in the MIAA, which is the best conference in the country when it comes to women’s basketball. I welcome that challenge; I look forward to it. I know it’s tough, I know it’s a tough league, but I know we have tough players and players who are committed to win.
“I think that whole dynamic was something that really enticed me to make that move and want to make that move.”