Augustana introduces new women's basketball coach Jillian Flores Bennett
The 33-year-old replaces legendary Dave Krauth as head of Division II Vikings program
SIOUX FALLS — Dave Krauth coached the Augustana University women's basketball team for 34 years. That's one year longer than new coach Jillian Flores Bennett has been alive.
Krauth won 695 games and took the Vikings to 15 Division II NCAA tournaments in that time, turning Augustana into one of the most consistently successful women's programs in the country while establishing himself as a legendary local figure and one of the most respected coaches in regional sports history before retiring after this season.
So yes, Flores Bennett has enormous shoes to fill. But somebody has to do it, and the Vikings are confident they've found the right person, while Flores Bennett is ready for the tall task ahead.
"Basketball-wise, there's an opportunity to take something really good and make it even better," said the 33-year-old Council Bluffs, Iowa, native. "The players we have in place and the reputation the program has will only help in recruiting and sustaining the success they've had."
Flores Bennett's resume does not jump off the page. She initially pursued a career in social work out of college, and has only been a head coach for two seasons, which she spent at two different places at a lower level. She went 20-11 in one season at Our Lady of the Lake, an NAIA college in San Antonio, Texas, before spending this past season as the head coach at Iowa Western Community College, where she led the Reivers to a 26-5 mark.
But while the Vikings liked what they saw from Flores Bennett in those two seasons, it was the impression she made throughout the search process and interviewing that won her the job.
"She was the first of the finalists I had a chance to meet and she set the bar so high," said Augustana president Stephanie Herseth Sandlin. "There was something about her, and I think it has to do with her journey to college coaching and her heart for service. She had an authenticity and intensity and a drive that as a female leader myself I connected with immediately."
To that end, the Vikings are excited about bringing in a young woman to coach the team and to mentor the women on the roster. Flores Bennett was not an immediately familiar name when she applied for the job, and her confidence in her ability to replace Krauth also resonated with Herseth Sandlin and athletic director Josh Morton.
"You could really sense a competitive fire and that really resonated with everyone," Morton said of Flores Bennett. "Everyone involved in the process understood that the new coach would have very big shoes to fill, that there's a tradition here, and that we're looking for someone to take something that's already very good and elevate it. You want the right person for that and I think Jillian is the one."
The Vikings went 25-6 this year and return a few key pieces from that team. This is not a rebuild, obviously. That's not new for Flores Bennett, though. Since she spent just one season at each of her previous head coaching stops, she's proven she can win with players already in place. Now she looks forward to the chance to build something long term on top of what she has in the present.
"I've never been a coach that says let's ease into it," she said. "I want to win right away. That's who I am, that's ingrained in me. I have a really high expectation."
"I'm excited to learn more about this team," she added. "I've been watching film and I see a team that's really athletic and long with dynamic players who can do a little bit of everything. They can shoot the 3, a few of them can really score in the paint and they can switch on ball screens."
Three-point shooting, the transition game, aggressive pressure defense — those were the hallmarks of Krauth's teams, and it sounds like Flores Bennett will make them big parts of hers, too.
"I will adjust to what I have," she said. "When you're a new coach you have to do that and I think I'm pretty good at that. We'll shoot the 3 and we will play fast, especially in transition. I really love ball screens, so maybe you'll see a little more of that, but really it's just about finding ways to make our offense full-throttle."
The status of incumbent assistant coaches Katie Bourk and Alex Nissen are undecided, as Flores Bennett will look to assemble her staff in the coming weeks. After that, her next order of business will be getting a feel for Sioux Falls, the NSIC and her new recruiting base. The new coach's excitement and confidence are palpable as she looks to navigate a transition while maintaining the ties to Krauth's unforgettable legacy.
"I'll be very frank with you — there was a little bit of (apprehension) in the beginning," Flores Bennett said. "There were some people who said to me, 'You know you're following a legend, right?' But I think when you're confident in who you are and pay respect in the proper way to those who paved the way for you, you can appreciate that past but also come in and shake things up a little bit. That's what I want to do and I think everyone's excited about that."