Heather Vulin has had success wherever her college basketball coaching career has taken her. With stops at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut and Villanova University down in Philadelphia, winning has become part of Vulin’s DNA.
Which is why, even though she landed the first head coaching job of her career this season with the Manhattan College women’s team, her first brush with losing has been somewhat of a grind.
“The hardest part was I was incredibly excited to get my first opportunity to be a head coach. I love it here,” Vulin said. “It’s been a perfect fit for me, my husband and my family. It’s just been awesome. But the hardest part was I was hired in late April, so I didn’t get to choose the team and the team didn’t get to choose me. Just building that relationship and that trust you need to have to be a successful team and getting everyone to buy in was tough. There have been spurts where I thought we’ve been there and then we’d take a step back. So it’s been hard. If you look at my career I was at Sacred Heart for six years and then Villanova for seven years. I’m a builder. I build things. I help build championship teams so I’ve never been with a program that had to be rebuilt from the ground floor. That was new for me but I was blessed to have great kids.”
As she begins to put her stamp on the Jaspers’ program in her first season Manhattan finished with an 8-21 record and a 4-16 mark in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Association (MAAC). The Jaspers will now travel to Albany for this week’s MAAC Tournament where Manhattan will be the 10th seed and take on No. 7 Monmouth in its Thursday opener.
Because of a quirk in the MAAC schedule, this will be the third time Manhattan and Monmouth will face off in a span of 15 days. The two teams split their two regular season games, which gives Vulin confidence going into her first MAAC Tournament.
“The exciting thing is we split with them. So it’s not a situation where we haven’t beaten them,” Vulin said. “We’ve been very competitive with them. We beat them on their home floor. If we have people firing on all cylinders then we’re a very good team.”
Vulin said the reason for the Jaspers struggles have been two-fold: a new team getting used to a new coaching regime and a shortage of offensive weapons beyond Kayla Grimme and Amani Tatum, the leaders of this Manhattan team.
“Kayla Grimme has gone from being a good player to, in my opinion, one of the best post players in the league,” Vulin said. “She completely brought in to what we’re trying to accomplish here. But our struggle all year has been having a consistent third scorer. We have that 1-2 punch with Amani Tatum and Kayla Grimme but we’ve struggled all year to find someone to take that third scoring role to really help us. Also, almost everybody on the roster was like a freshman because of a new style, a new coach and a new staff. So everything was just new. A lot of times new can be fun but new can also be scary.”
Grimme led the Jaspers in scoring this season at 14.4 points, tied for seventh place in the MAAC while Tatum averaged 10.2 points an outing while dishing out a league-best 4.9 assists a game.
“There is not one team in this league that we can’t beat if we play together and play as a team,” Vulin said. “I thought we did a good job with the establishing a new culture this year. Now part two is how are we going to perform this weekend? That will be the next step. Can we peak now at the right time?”