In the 44-year history of the University of Akron women’s basketball program there has never been a better coaching debut than that of Melissa Jackson.
Although no stranger to the Zips sideline, the 10-year assistant and now UA coach put her name above everyone else Wednesday in a 91-61 Mid-American Conference crossover win over Ball State at Rhodes Arena.
In guiding Akron to its 14th victory, Jackson set a school record for wins in a season by a first-year coach.
“I don’t even think it has sunk in,” Jackson said. “I really just try to take it one game at a time and that’s been our motto all year.
“Also, our motto has been be greater than average and I’ve taken that to heart. I don’t want to coach average. I don’t want our program to be average and that says it right there. We’re looking to be better than average in everything we do.”
To put the achievement in perspective, nine other coaches opened a season at Akron and only John Street has come close to what Jackson is doing for the Zips (14-8, 5-6).
That came in 1982-83 when Street led Akron to a 13-13 mark.
“It’s a huge accomplishment,” Zips guard Megan Sefcik said. “Coming in, she was my position coach the first couple years, so being able to be here for my fifth year and being able to play under her as my head coach, it’s been a blessing. I’m excited for what’s to come.”
Sefcik, who finished with a game-high 24 points, entered her name in the record books as only the third Akron player with 200 career 3-pointers.
The 5-foot-10 senior hit No. 200 on an assist from Alyssa Clay (16 points) from the right elbow with 3:23 remaining in the second quarter. Sefcik now has 202 career 3s.
Only Hannah Plybon (313, 2013-17) and Taylor Ruper (269, 2009-13) have more.
“That’s huge for her and huge for us as a team,” UA forward Caitlin Vari (Revere) said. “She’s a big part of the team and we definitely depend on her 3s. We put a lot of trust in her and she has a lot of confidence. It’s just a huge accomplishment.”
Vari had another solid showing with 10 points and tied a career high in rebounds with 16. She went 4-for-7 with two assists and four blocks.
“Caitlin has been huge for us all year,” Jackson said. “Both her and Haliegh [Reinohl] have been really consistent for us. She’s been an absolute beast on the boards and I do believe she’s one of the best defenders in this league. ... We need that from her and she knows that’s her role. She loves getting those offensive rebounds. She’s a big part of our success.”
Akron also received double-digit scoring from Shaunay Edmonds (11), Reinohl (11) and Shayna Harmon (10).
The Zips got everything they needed in an unbelievable first quarter in which they outscored the Cardinals 20-3.
Ball State (7-16, 2-9) scored the first basket of the game, but then went 9:50 without a basket and 7:31 without a point.