By all accounts, the Charity Elliott era of UC San Diego Women's Basketball has been a rousing success. Entering the 2011-12 season, Elliott had a career mark of 97-31 in La Jolla, four consecutive 20-win seasons, a pair of CCAA Championships and three NCAA Playoff appearances. Her fifth year at the helm may well turn out to be the best yet. With a perfect record after 20 games, the Tritons have ascended to the top of the national rankings for the first time in history. A graduate of Missouri State (formerly Southwest Missouri State), where she played on the Bears' 1992 NCAA D-I Final Four squad, Elliott has been a perfect fit at UC San Diego. With a Spirit Night clash against fast-rising Cal State L.A., the CCAA's third place team, looming Friday, Elliott took time to discuss the evolution of this year's team, its senior leaders and her coaching career.
Q-What's been the most surprising thing you've experienced since the team attained the No. 1 national ranking?
ELLIOTT-I think the attention to our program and the interest from the community has been the biggest surprise. It's been really nice to see these kids get some recognition for their efforts.
Q-How has your team adjusted to all of the ancillary attention that comes with being ranked No. 1?
ELLIOTT-We've tried to keep things very consistent and have tried to remain focused on what has led to our success. We've talked a lot about "our standards" and keeping our blinders on to everything else that's going on.
Q-Your team is 20-0 right now. Last year, the team lost its first six games before righting things, finishing 20-10 but missing out on the NCAA Playoffs. What's the biggest difference between this year and last?
ELLIOTT-I think the experience we gained from those tough losses last year and the fact that we missed out on the NCAA tourney for the first time has been our main motivation for this season. We also have some individuals whose growth as basketball players over the course of the off-season has taken this entire program to a new and higher level.
Q-As a coach, what did you learn from last year and how did it affect your approach to this season?
ELLIOTT- Last year was one of the proudest of my coaching career, believe it or not. We started out 0-6 and could have ended up in the tank. But, that team would not allow that to happen. We had six freshmen that had to grow up in a hurry and our returners had to learn how to lead through difficulties and how much effort it takes to be successful. After those first six games, we went 20-4....the growth and maturation of that team was unbelievable to me. Now, this group has lived through adversity and we continue to use those lessons and refer to last year quite often.
Q-Obviously, the goals every season are first a CCAA title and then an NCAA Championship. How realistic are those objectives this year and what is the most important priority for your team from this point on?
ELLIOTT-Our priority every day is to remain focused on the things that have led to our success so far this season. We need to not get caught up in what other people are saying and just stay true to our standards.
Q-When it comes to undefeated teams playing a lengthy schedule one school of thought subscribes to the notion that it's better to lose a game along the way. How do you feel about that?
ELLIOTT-To me, whether you win or lose, it's important to learn lessons from each game and that's what we're trying to do. We've had several wins that we have treated as losses and have been able to learn a tremendous amount from those games. Our goal has never been to be undefeated...our goal is to keep improving and to stay focused on our expectations and the results will take care of themselves.
Q-This year's Tritons are lead by the strong senior core of Chelsea Carlisle, Daisy Feder and Lauren Freidenberg. What does each bring to the team and what is the one word that best describes each one?
ELLIOTT-Those three are just priceless to this team and this program. In their four years, they have experienced so many highs and lows and that is what I believe has enabled them to be leading so amazingly well this season.
Chelsea is so steady and is truly my extension on the floor. She leads both by words and action and has the unmatched trust of her teammates. One Word: STEADY
Daisy has been through so much to get to this point and I'm so happy and proud of her. She is a tremendous competitor and just loves this game and will do whatever she has to do to help this team. One word: RELENTLESS
Lauren is a natural leader and the passion behind our team. She is such a perfectionist and has grown so much in her time here. Her freshman year she was able to learn from some great post players (Alexis Gaskin and Michelle Osier) and she used that time to watch and learn. Every year her commitment to improve and work has led her to become one of the premier posts in our conference and the voice of this team. One word: FIRE
Q-What is the most gratifying thing about being a head coach at UC San Diego?
ELLIOTT-I love working with young ladies who are passionate about life and all areas of their life...in the classroom, on the court, for their future and for society. I also love working in an environment surrounded by other coaches and administrators who are all working to be excellent in their work!
Q-In season, what's a typical day in the life of Charity Elliott?
ELLIOTT-During the season, my day is full of watching film, preparing practice and getting ready for our next opponent as well as trying to take the pulse of our team and determine what they need on that particular day or week.
Q-You're pretty vocal on the sidelines. What role do you feel the head coach should play and where do you feel a coach has the most impact during a game?
ELLIOTT-I think coaches have to stay within their personality and I can't help but get excited in practice and in games. To me, teaching occurs in practice...games are for making minor adjustments.
Q-Who have been some of your coaching mentors? Do you still stay in contact with them? Outside of sports, who do you admire?
ELLIOTT-My coaching mentors include Cheryl Burnett, my coach at Southwest Missouri State (now Missouri State) . She is now retired from coaching but we keep in pretty close contact and she's the one if I want to run something by someone, I'd call. Beth Burns, at SDSU, is another mentor. She gave me my first college coaching job and has always been willing to give me wisdom! Outside of sports, I admire people who stand for their convictions and don't waver based upon popular opinion.
Q-You have an outstanding group of colleagues on the coaching staff at UC San Diego. What have you learned from other coaches here and what's the best thing you've been able to take from watching one of them?
ELLIOTT-This group of coaches at UCSD is just amazing! They are so talented and committed to excellence and I've learned so much from so many of them. I think talking with Patti Gerckens (head softball coach) and watching her truly enjoy every day has had a significant impact on me and how I'm approaching this year.
Q-As a player, you were part of a Final Four team at Southwest Missouri State. What impact did playing collegiate basketball and reaching the Final Four have on your life?
ELLIOTT-I believe I had one of the most amazing experiences as a student-athlete and that experience has shaped and defined me as a coach to this day. My desire for my team is that they too will have lasting memories and lasting relationships from their time in this program. I learned so much about adversity, success, teamwork, and excellence as a player and those are some of the things that I hope to pass on. My senior year, we had a team of very unspectacular, unselfish, hard workers who achieved more than anyone thought possible...
Q-What's it like having your husband, Chris, on the coaching staff with you?
ELLIOTT-It works because we get along so well...he knows what I expect and knows what I most need to be at my best. I feel so blessed to have him and Alexis (Mezzetta) on my staff. We laugh so much and it just makes coming to work every day so enjoyable. Sure, we have our days where all three of us get irritated, but I couldn't ask for a more loyal, supportive and fun staff to work with!
Q-Away from coaching and away from basketball, what kind of interests do you have? If you had to work outside of sports, where would it be?
ELLIOTT-I think if I weren't coaching, I'd be either teaching history (I love history) or working with animals. I am a history fanatic and am constantly reading biographies on the early leaders of this country or books on different wars or eras in the world. We can all learn so much from the successes and mistakes of those who have gone before us. And I love animals, so I think I could be very happy working with them on a daily basis too.
Other interests I have....during the off-season, I'll be preparing to run my second La Jolla Half-Marathon. Chris and I have been on several mission trips with our church and I'm involved in the FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) group here on campus. We also love to travel!
Q-What are your three all-time favorite movies?
ELLIOTT-"The Notebook", "Remember the Titans" and "Bridesmaids."
Q-If you were writing the script for the last two months of the 2011-12 season, how would it go?
ELLIOTT- I can't think that far ahead...I just want to have a good practice tomorrow! :)
Previous Q & A Articles
Brian Donohoe (Men's Water Polo) September 4, 2011
Roxanne Brunsting (Women's Volleyball) August 19, 2011
Jon Pascale (Men's Soccer) August 4, 2011
Jon Pascale (Men's Soccer) August 4, 2011
Vincent Nguyen (Tennis) July 1, 2011
Patti Gerckens (Softball) May 26, 2011
Blake Tagmyer (Baseball) May 11, 2011
Theresa Richards (Women's Track & Field) April 27, 2011
Austin West (Men's Tennis) April 17, 2011
Matt Herman (Men's Swimming & Diving) March 12, 2011
Christine Merrill (Women's Track & Field) June 14, 2010