DNA of a winning program

Rob Steiner
Mesa CC Legend

Mesa Community College (MCC) athletic teams have had their share of ups and downs with one team standing above the rest with over a decade of wins. MCC Women’s basketball team has been ranked in the top three, of their division, every season for the past 12 years under head coach Kori Stephenson. The team has also gone on to win a championship within that time frame, something that had not been accomplished for 34 years at MCC. Many of her players say it’s her coaching style and will to be a winner that is part of their success. Stephenson started her dream of becoming a coach soon after finishing college. She turned to her former college coach for guidance and help to find what coaching jobs were available. That’s how she was able to connect to MCC. Coach Stephenson was first hired as an assistant coach to Pam Olerich at MCC.

With little to her name, she fit everything she could into her car, along with $800 and drove from Montana to Arizona to follow her dream. Within four seasons Stephenson became the head coach and was able to show her knowledge of the game by posting a winning year in her first season. Within the next few seasons, Stephenson lifted the program to an even higher level by winning 25 games and clinching first place, in the division, and took them to a national championship in 2014. This created and begin the winning culture at MCC. During an interview, in asking her how she does keeps a consistent level of winning, and answers with a simple and somewhat humble response, “Just recruiting, Good players make you a good coach.”

Stephenson also credits her philosophy to the kind of student-athletes she recruits. “We continue to stay in our value system. We want hard working kids with a strong work ethic and a good character.”  Stephenson has a great appreciation for the staff. Sam Stevens, the assistant coach, has been working with Stephenson for 16 years and she kept him on the coaching staff when she moved to the position of head coach. With the addition of coach Ben Nelson as an assistant coach eight years ago. “We are one of the few community colleges with a consistent coaching staff. I have been real lucky,” said Stephenson. Stevens added, “That’s hard to find in Junior College system because there is such a high turnover for coaches.”

Stevens credits a similar background experience to Stephenson which helps them create the culture of hard work and success. “We [coaches] are just small-town people and everything our parents got they worked for it. That’s just what we do, we are like, well were not the fastest or flashiest but we’re going to be the hardest workers. We are all on the same page, we are never second-guessing.” Steves said that among his reasons for being at MCC for so long is his respect for Stephenson’s passion for the game of basketball. “Kori just brings a different energy.” “I remember after we won the national championship in 2014 I was reflecting that night as we were all there that I just don’t want to coach with any other coaches. They’re like family to me. It’s a tight community around here just because of our love of basketball,” said Stevens.

“What makes her special is that this [coaching] is what she wanted to do. So, she took a chance and never looked back.” John Mulhern, MCC Athletic director, said. Sometimes she has a tough time with her student-athletes because they don’t understand she’s lived it. She didn’t come halfway and stop, turn around and went back home. She buckled down, paid in her dues, and now she is a coach with a national championship.”  This current season is off to another strong start and the coaches and athletes are working hard. The coaches would love support as they fight for their right to compete for another national championship. Their schedule game times and locations can be found online at MCC school website

Athletic Director John Mulhern agreed by stating, “Recruiting is critical, you are trying to get the best student-athletes possible and it’s a very competitive environment. There is no end to the season. It takes a yearlong commitment.” adding “we’re always out at some high school game some night of the week we are always out trying to do something.” When having a discussion with Mulhern he expressed his gratitude for the women’s program stating “baseball is very good, women’s and men’s golf is very good, but she has the best program on the national map.” I asked if he thought having a program as a perineal powerhouse helps the school and other programs have success Mulhern said, “Yes, I do. The program won MCC its first championship in 34 years, we have won two more as a school since then.”

Mesa Legend Staff

Mesa Legend Staff

Stories contributed by MCC journalism students. See end of each article for corresponding authors.
Mesa Legend Staff

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