Mike Strong
Mike Strong
Title: Former Head Coach

By The Numbers
Strong vs. All Opponents

Mike Strong accomplished things in his 34 seasons as head coach of The University of Scranton's women's basketball program that no one else ever has. After announcing his retirement on Friday, Oct. 19, 2014, Strong ended his career as the all-time leader in career victories in NCAA Division III women's basketball history with 815. He set the record on Dec. 17, 2011, with his 789th career victory, a 46-43 win over Cabrini College in Radnor, Pa. He is also the only women's coach in NCAA Division III history and only the second in all of NCAA Division III to win 800 games. His overall record is 815-182 (.817).

Remarkably, he led the Lady Royals to at least 20 wins in 19 of the last 22 seasons and 26 times overall. This pales in comparison to his NCAA Division III championship in 1985 or his seven other teams that reached the Final Four (1987, 1993, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2005, 2006), not to mention a semifinal appearance in the now defunct Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) national tournament in his first season in 1980.

Overall, he led Scranton to 26 NCAA tournament appearances, to 16 of the Lady Royals’ 19 Middle Atlantic/Freedom Conference titles, and three Landmark Conference championships (2008, 2009, 2014). He never had a losing season, and the fewest victories he ever posted in a year were 16.

In his final season in 2013-14, he led the Lady Royals to a 26-4 record and an appearance in the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 after capturing the Landmark Conference championship. He had three players earn all-Landmark Conference honors, including first-team choice Meredith Mesaris, who was also an honorable mention All-American by the Women's Basketball Coaches Association.

That season was just one in a long list of succesful seasons for Strong. The 2004-05 season was a prime example of his coaching ability. The Lady Royals entered the season hard hit by the graduation of Kodak honorable mention all-American guards Kate Pierangeli (2003, 2004) and Katie Dougherty (2004), who led Scranton to a four-year record of 95-18 (.841), including two Freedom Conference championships (2002, 2004) and three NCAA berths, including Sweet 16 and Elite Eight appearances in 2002 and 2004, respectively. In what was anticipated as a rebuilding season turned out to be a 29-3 campaign, which included a 29-game winning streak, a No. 1 ranking late in the season by D3hoops.com and USA Today/ESPN/WBCA, and another trip to the Final Four.

Behind the play of all-Americans Taryn Mellody and Allison Matt and the senior leadership of Erin Healy and Kelly Lewandowski, Scranton returned to the Final Four again in 2006 and finished third en route to a 31-2 season. Mellody and Matt capped outstanding careers in 2007 by leading Scranton to a 27-3 record and top-10 final rankings by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) and D3hoops.com.

Strong hit the ground running when he took over the program in 1979. He guided the Lady Royals to a 26-7 overall record, a Middle Atlantic Conference (MAC) championship and a semifinal berth in the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, (AIAW) the precursor of the NCAA tournament. Five years later, he led Scranton to a 31-1 season and its first-ever NCAA title in women's basketball, thanks, in part, to the play of Deanna Kyle, the national player of the year and a former assistant coach, along with a supporting cast that included future University of Scranton Wall of Fame inductees Mary Leedy, Shelley Parks and Shelley Ritz-Buntz.

Parks would be the spark to a 31-2 season -- the second of four 30-or-more win seasons under Strong -- in 1987. Like Kyle in 1985, Parks was named the national player of the year after Scranton advanced to the Final Four and finished third. In 1993, Scranton would once again reach the 30-win plateau and place third nationally.

Strong's eye for talent continued in the mid-1990s. He recruited Jennifer Nish out of nearby Pocono Mountain High School and watched her develop into the University's first three-time all-American and a Wall of Fame inductee. She led the Lady Royals to a four-year record of 105-14 (.882), including four straight NCAA tournament berths and a Final Four appearance in 1997. Strong took a sabbatical in 1994-1995, but Scranton didn't miss a beat under then-head coach Sue Serafini, going 24-2, winning the Middle Atlantic Conference Freedom League title and advancing to the NCAA regionals.

Nish would not be the last three-time all-American that Strong would develop. Kelly Halpin earned that distinction by leading the Lady Royals to a four-year record of 103-20 (.837) from 1996-2000, including Final Four berths in 1997, 1999 and 2000. Halpin concluded her brilliant career as Scranton's all-time leader in assists and second in scoring and steals. Mellody also earned that distinction in 2007 when she was named first-team all-American by the WBCA for the third consecutive season. All told, 18 different players have earned all-America honors during his tenure.

Strong's career at the University began well before his appointment as head women's basketball coach. Upon graduation from Concord College in West Virginia in 1967, he joined the University as an assistant men's basketball coach in 1972 after a successful three-year stint as head basketball and head soccer coach at then Keystone Junior College in nearby LaPlume, Pa. In 1976, he was an assistant under then-head coach Bob Bessoir as The University of Scranton men's basketball team won the NCAA Division III national championship.

Strong has enjoyed success in other areas of coaching as well. He served as head men's tennis coach from 1973-1982 and again in 1990 and guided the Royals to a 91-46 mark (.665). During this period, he was instrumental in developing the talents of John Wunder, a member of the Wall of Fame who became the first player in Scranton history to win a Middle Atlantic Conference singles title and advance to the NCAA Division III national tournament. As head women's tennis coach from 1996-2000, he led Scranton to five straight winning seasons and an overall record of 53-13 (.803), which included three Freedom Conference titles (1996, 1997 and 1999) and a Middle Atlantic Conference overall championship (1999).

Recently retired as an associate professor in the University's Exercise Science and Sport department, Mike and his wife, Linda, reside in Paupack. The couple have two children, Scott and Chris, and three grandchildren. 

Overall Record: 815-182 (.817)
NCAA Championships: 1 (1985)
NCAA Final Four Appearances: 8 (1985, 1987, 1993, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2005, 2006)
NCAA Tournament Appearances: 26 (1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1990, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2013, 2014)
NCAA Tournament Record: 55-29 (.655)
AIAW Final Four Appearances: 1 (1980)
AIAW Tournament Record: 8-2 (.800)
Overall National Tournament Record: 63-31 (.670)
Landmark Conference Titles: 3 (2008, 2009, 2014)
Middle Atlantic/Freedom Conference Titles: 16 (1980, 1982, 1985, 1987, 1990, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007)
20-or-more win seasons: 26 (1980 {26}, 1981 {27}, 1985 {31}, 1986 {23}, 1987 {31}, 1989 {20}, 1990 {26}, 1992 {22}, 1993 {30}, 1994 {27}, 1996 {26}, 1997 {28}, 1998 {21}, 1999 {28}, 2000 {26}, 2001 {20}, 2002 {25}, 2003 {23}, 2004 {27}, 2005 {29}, 2006 {31}, 2007 {27}, 2008 {21}, 2009 {26}, 2010 {22}, 2014 {26})
30-or-more win seasons: 4 (1985 {31}, 1987 {31}, 1993 {30}, 2006 {31})
All-Americans: 19 (Melanie Bibak-1984; Denise Capoocia-1980; Fran Harkins-1981, 1983; Deanna Kyle-1985; Una Espenkotter-1986; Fran Gabriel-1982; Shelley Parks-1987; Laura Pikulski-1992; Lynne Kempski-1993; Jackie Dougherty-1994; *Jennifer Nish-1996, 1997; Kelly Halpin-1998, 1999, 2000; Kate Pierangeli-2003, 2004; Katie Dougherty-2004; Taryn Mellody-2005, 2006; 2007; Allison Matt-2006, 2007; Kathleen Daly-2008; Megan Kopecki-2009, 2010; Meredith Mesaris-2014)
NCAA Player of the Year Selections: 2 (Deanna Kyle-1985; Shelley Parks-1987)
Landmark Conference Player of the Year Selections: 2 (Kathleen Daly-2008; Megan Kopecki-2009, 2010, 2011 {Tri-Player})
Middle Atlantic/Freedom Conference Most Valuable Player Selections: 9 (Deanna Kyle-1985; Shelley Parks-1987; Laura Pikulski-1992; Lynne Kempski-1993; Jackie Dougherty-1994; *Jennifer Nish-1995-1997; Kelly Halpin-1998; Taryn Mellody-2005, 2006
Landmark Conference Rookie of the Year Selections: 2 (Megan Kopecki-2008, Sarah Payonk-2014)
Middle Atlantic/Freedom Conference Rookie of the Year Selections: 3 (Jennifer Nish-1994; Kate Dougherty-1996; Gillian McGovern-1999)
Middle Atlantic/Freedom Conference Coach of the Year: 8 (1990, 1993, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2005, 2006, 2007)
WBCA District 4 Coach of the Year: 3 (2000, 2006, 2007)
Kodak NCAA Division III Coach of the Year: 1 (1985)

*Please note: Mike Strong was on sabbatical when Jennifer Nish earned all-America and MAC Freedom League MVP honors in 1995 under then head coach Sue Serafini