It had to have been a sign.
Coming off a program-record 20-win season, Binghamton University, N.Y., head women’s basketball coach Linda Cimino was poised to continue her recent string of success heading into this fall hoops season.
God however had different plans for the veteran coach.
While on a pilgrimage last summer in Rome, Cimino visited Assisi and became enamored with St. Francis. In fact, she said St. Francis soon became her favorite saint.
So when St. Francis College, Brooklyn Heights, Athletic Director Irma Garcia called about her taking over as head coach for the Terriers’ women’s basketball team, Cimino knew it was a sign from above.
Cimino was named the 13th head coach in program history back in May. As she prepares for the start of her first season in Brooklyn, she is relying on her Catholic faith to help her lead the team.
Growing up in Rhode Island, Cimino was a varsity star in four sports – basketball, soccer, tennis and softball – at North Smithfield H.S., R.I. As a guard in basketball, she earned an athletic scholarship to Adelphi University, Garden City, L.I. She remains the program’s all-time leader in free-throw percentage and 3-point field goal percentage.
After graduating in 2001, Cimino immediately broke into the coaching ranks as the head women’s basketball coach at the age of 22 at Queensborough Community College, Bayside.
She then coached varsity girls’ hoops at Calhoun H.S., Merrick, L.I., before returning to her college alma mater Adelphi as an assistant coach.
“I always wanted to coach,” Cimino said. “I had influential coaches in my life. I looked up to them and felt I could give back the same way that I received. I have a passion for the sport.
“To continue within the sport, you can coach, so that’s what I did.”
From there, Cimino spent eight years as the head coach of the women’s team at Division II Caldwell University, N.J., where she became the program’s all-time leader with 128 wins. Her last four years coaching came at Binghamton.
The past three seasons, the Bearcats averaged 15-plus wins and played at or above .500 in conference play each year. Last year, the team received a bid to the Women’s Basketball Invitational (WBI), marking the first time the program reached a national postseason tournament since the school moved up to Division I prior to the 2001-02 season.
New ‘Heights’ in Brooklyn
John Thurston retired in April after six years leading the Terriers women’s team, so Cimino became a prime target to take over. She said she knew Thurston and was excited to continue building the program he established.
When Garcia reached out following Cimino’s pilgrimage and newfound devotion to St. Francis, the decision to head to Brooklyn became crystal clear.
“It was a sign,” said Cimino, who attends daily Mass at St. Francis’ chapel. “It was a door that was opened for me. The fact that it was St. Francis … it all just came together and helped make the decision easier.”
As part of the reflection process, Cimino also embarked on a personal pilgrimage starting last year and wrapping up this summer, in which she attended Mass in all 50 states.
The journey really took off when her Binghamton team played in Alaska last year. She enjoyed trips to California and Hawaii and was able to complete the pilgrimage by hitting the final dozen states during the two weeks before reporting to St. Francis.
The Terriers finished a program-best third place in the Northeast Conference last season. With the 2018-2019 campaign set to begin in less than a month, Cimino is relying on top contributions from junior guard Jade Johnson, senior guard Amy O’Neill, redshirt junior guard Mia Ehling and recent graduate student transfer guard Dominique Ward.
So far, Cimino’s players have been receptive to her message as she continues the process of implementing her system on the court.
“Our young ladies have all this positive influence, so all they have to do is go out there and work hard and put it all together because they have the support and the motivation around them,” she said.
But in addition to seeing her players perform well on the court, Cimino is eager to serve as a mentor and role model as she helps shape the lives of these young women. Her faith has played a prominent role in establishing the values she’s now passing on to her players.
“We talk about being good people and making good decisions that are positive and don’t just affect you but affect others around you,” said Cimino, a lector and extraordinary minister of Holy Communion at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and at the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, both Manhattan.
“One of St. Francis’ quotes is ‘For it is in giving that we receive.’ We appreciate our blessings and try to bless others in any way that we can.”
Cimino’s expectations are high for herself and her team, as a challenging non-conference schedule is preparing the Terriers well for Northeast Conference play.
With St. Francis as her guide, Cimino is already proving to be a great fit for both the school and women’s basketball program.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.