NCAA News Archive - 2008

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Fisher’s Kahler to retire with most women’s wins in DIII

Phil Kahler is retiring after 34 season as women’s basketball coach at St. John Fisher, where he won more games than any other Division III coach in the sport. St. John Fisher photo.
Nov 13, 2008 9:22:55 AM

The NCAA News

Division III’s most victorious women’s basketball coach will retire Friday from the job he created 34 years ago at St. John Fisher.

Phil Kahler, the only women’s coach who has won more than 700 games in Division III, is turning over the reins over to 23-year assistant coach Marianne O’Connor Ermi, a former player for Kahler who will serve this season on an interim basis.

Kahler came to the school shortly after it began admitting women students, planning to serve only as women’s athletics director.

“But when I arrived at Fisher, I found out there wasn’t enough money to hire coaches, so I really didn’t have a choice but to coach,” he said.

He met with interested students among the 34 women who attended the school in 1974 and asked which sports they wanted to play. Their response was basketball and volleyball.

Kahler coached both teams, guiding the volleyball squad for nine season and compiling a record of 386-72. The team’s 76-match winning streak over the 1979 and 1980 seasons ranks as the second-longest in National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics history.

But basketball is the sport where the Ohio native left a lasting mark, as he reached the 600- and 700-win plateaus faster than any other coach in NCAA basketball history. He was tied with Tennessee’s Pat Summitt for the second-longest tenure among active women’s basketball coaches (trailing Rutgers’ Vivian Stringer and North Carolina State’s Kay Yow, who both are starting their 37th season this year). His 757 collegiate wins are the most by any Division III coach.

Two of his teams advanced to the championship game of the Division III Women’s Basketball Championship, losing in 1988 to Concordia-Moorhead and in 1990 to Hope. His 2007-08 team posted the school’s 32nd straight winning season.

“We’ve been a successful program over the years because we’ve always had smart, talented players who have excelled in the classroom and on the court,” Kahler said. “I’m proud of our won-lost record over the years, but I take much more pride in knowing our program has produced women who have gone on to become lawyers, doctors,  nurses and mothers.

One of those former players, Ermi, joined the staff immediately after completing a playing career that earned induction earlier this year into the school’s athletics hall of fame.

“We’ll probably do a few things different, but for the most part, we’re going to continue doing the things that have made this program what it is today,” she said. “It’s been great working for coach Kahler for as long as I have and although I know I have the biggest shoes to fill, I’ve waited most of my adult life for this moment, and I’m excited to have this opportunity.”

Information courtesy of St. John Fisher SID Norm Kieffer

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