On the ball

Women's basketball coaches — partners and parents — lead team to NCAA tournament

Head coach with her family
Women’s basketball head coach Randi Henderson with her husband and assistant basketball coach Duez Henderson, daughter Harper, 2 ½ (left) and son Zeke, 14 months. (Photo courtesy of WashU Athletics)

Game tape and “Sesame Street.”

Morning practices and afternoon naps.

Xs and Os and ABCs.

As coaches to the Washington University in St. Louis women’s basketball team and parents of two small children, Harper, 2 1/2, and Zeke, 14 months, Randi and Duez Henderson need to stay on the ball.

“People ask how we juggle parenthood and basketball. We don’t; it’s more of an intermixing,” said Duez Henderson, who serves as assistant coach to his wife, head coach Randi Henderson. “If you walk into a practice, Randi may be holding Harper at half-court talking about rebounding while I’ve got Zeke and working with a player. Harper will sit on the girls’ laps to watch game film and learned her ABCs by associating letters with the players’ names.”

The Hendersons are leading the No. 19-ranked  Bears into their 30th consecutive NCAA Division III Tournament appearance. The Bears will play Wisconsin-Whitewater at 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 1, at the Athletic Complex. If they win, they face the winner of Friday’s matchup between George Fox University and Greenville University at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 2.

The Bears play at 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 1, in Round 1 of the NCAA Division III Tournament. (Photo: Danny Reise/Washington University)

Earlier this month, the team won the University Athletic Association (UAA) championship. Equally impressive, 14 players — a division best — won Academic All-UAA Honors.

“They are driven in every capacity,” Randi Henderson said. “It’s rare to be around an entire group with the same kind of motor. This group has been great at embracing roles and understanding responsibilities.”

As coaches, Randi Henderson focuses on the big picture and team strategy while Duez Henderson works with individual players to develop their skills. The couple’s relationship started when Randi Henderson was head coach for the Coe College women’s basketball team, and Duez Henderson was training one of her players. Soon, Duez Henderson was showing up at practices and games.

“He would interject every now and then, asking questions and providing feedback,” Randi Henderson said. “At games, he would be sitting behind the bench, yelling suggestions and passing notes.”

Randi Henderson would do the same for Duez Henderson, who was coaching an amateur  team.

“We really valued each other’s opinions,” Randi Henderson said. “Once you start getting good feedback, you start going to that bucket more. Soon, he’d be over for dinner, and we’d be at the whiteboard discussing players and matchups. It slowly evolved into this thing where I wanted him on the sideline.”

Randi Henderson was tapped in 2017 to succeed beloved coach Nancy Fahey, who departed after 31 seasons. She gave birth to Zeke in the middle of her first season. She did not take leave; instead, she strapped her baby to her chest and brought him to games and practices.

Was it awful?

“No, not at all,” Randi Henderson said. “Yes, I was coaching a new team, and I didn’t get to sleep, and I was taking over from a legend, but I took it in stride. This is life. We try to reflect that positive leadership to our players and show them how to push through challenges and struggles with a smile and positive attitude. That’s just life. Life is tough. But it’s fun.”

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