CASTINE—Craig Dagan, the Maine Maritime Academy women’s basketball head coach, notched his 250th win as the leader of the Lady Mariners Saturday, February 6, with a 90-56 home win over Lyndon State College of Vermont. When he started coaching the team 15 years ago with wife Katrina as his assistant, that stat was not even something on their radar.
“When we started this thing, it was never about the wins or how many we could get. It still isn’t. It was, and still is, about having a quality program and having kids who are willing to work hard and put the time in on and off the court,” said Dagan while sitting in his office, located a stone’s throw away from the basketball court in the Margaret Chase Smith Gymnasium.
Dagan’s teams had success early on in his Maine Maritime Academy career, winning the North Atlantic Conference championship during the 2001-2002 and 2004-2005 seasons. His teams have made it to the NAC national tournament every year and have reached the finals six times.
The Lady Mariners have gone 250-148 under Dagan’s leadership, a statistic he attributes to the dedication of his players and his relationship with them, both between the lines and outside of the locker room.
“I think what makes a good coach is knowing how to have relationships with your kids both on and off the floor,” said Dagan. “It can get tough, because…you have a job to do and you have to be hard on them sometimes, but then we also want them to come to us with their personal or school issues as well, so you have to find that balance.”
Dagan has been successful with that balance over the years, reflected, if by nothing else, by the number of weddings of former players he has attended over the years.
“We’ve been to so many weddings,” said Dagan. “In fact, I think we have at least four coming up just this year.
“The kids are family to us. Our home is always open to them, and they know that and appreciate it.”
During the huddle, before the game starts or getting back on the floor after a time out, the players say “together” in unison, a phrase that Dagan says is not only the team’s catch phrase but its lifestyle.
The team struggled during the early games of the current season, opening with a 5-6 record with five of the losses coming on the team’s home court. Since then, the team has gone 6-1 and is riding a five-game win streak after beating Johnson State College and Lyndon State, both located in Vermont, over the weekend. The late-season success, according to Dagan, has come from the relationships that have formed between the lower and upper classmen.
“We have a lot of young kids this year; seven of them are playing college ball for the first time, and it’s a huge transition between high school and college,” said Dagan. “The older girls took our younger kids under their wing and really helped them learn the program. The lower classmen have acclimated well to the program because of that.”
The turning point, said Dagan, was a conversation he and Katrina had with the players following a 65-56 January 23 home loss to Castleton University, Vermont.
“After that game, we sat down with the team and had a long conversation about being able to scrap the game plan [when it’s not working] in the middle of a game and just be able to play with and off one another,” said Dagan. “We brought that into our next game and won exactly because of it.”
That game was a 72-60 win over the University of Maine at Fort Kent at home just three days later.
Dagan said one thing that has changed during his tenure as coach is the number of community members in attendance during the games.
“When we first got here, we had tremendous support from the community,” said Dagan. “The stands used to be full, and the players would feed off of that energy. I’ve noticed a change in that over the years. We have a good, exciting team, and it would be nice to have more community support so that the kids can have that.”
When looking toward the future of the team, Dagan said he is very excited about it.
“We have a great group of kids who came in this year [as freshmen] and a good group of juniors and seniors staying with the program,” said Dagan.
“I was told recently that it’s important for a coach, or anybody in a particular position really, to not overstay your welcome,” said Dagan, adding that the average career of a coach lasts for about 10 years.
Fifteen years in, Dagan said he still feels like he is contributing to the program in a positive way.
“I love coming to work every day,” he said. “These kids are my family, and I still feel like I have a lot to prove and a lot to give. As long as I feel that way, I’ll be sticking around for a while.”