In 1981, the SMU women’s basketball team welcomed a junior transfer from Old Dominion.
Rhonda Rompola led the Mustangs in points with 683, points per game with 21.3, and rebounds with 8.8 per game during the 1981-1982 season. She set and still holds school records for season scoring and free throw percentage.
A year later she graduated with a business degree, but – she never left. After graduating, she remained at SMU and worked as an assistant coach for eight years.
Thirty years after her arrival on the Hilltop, Rompola is the head coach of the Lady Mustangs and the team is experiencing one of its greatest season to date. Led by another junior transfer, Keena Mays, and the leadership of senior Alisha Filmore, SMU has placed itself in prime position to make a run for the C-USA championship and a bid to the NCAA tournament. With the team’s success, it’s no surprise that opposing teams will be bringing their A-game.
“As we wind down the season we are going to have to fight for every win,” said Rompola. “Every game is going to be tougher and tougher. I think their support for each other is what will carry us over. It’s like a group of sisters on the floor. This team is special – I really think we can take this program to the next level. I couldn’t ask for a better group of girls.”
When Rompola took over as head women’s basketball coach, she led the Mustangs to their first winning season since she last played in 1983.
When she became head coach, she promised to bring a winning tradition to women’s basketball at SMU. For 21 plus years she has been doing just that.
Rompola has over 400 career wins for SMU – more than any coach in any sport in the history of SMU athletics.
“It has been a challenge coaching here all these years because of all the conference changes,” said Rompola. “We were in the Southwestern Conference, then Western Atlantic Conference, then Conference-USA, and now we are moving to the big East. So, that Level of success doesn’t come without a few bumps.”
Throughout the journey Rompola has been blessed with the opportunity to work with the same staff for a number of years. In fact the SMU staff has the second longest active tenure of any staff at one school.
Associate head coach Lisa Dark has been with Rompola ever since she took over as head coach. Assistant coach Deenah Parker is in her 18th season at SMU and Danny Hughes is in his fourth.
“During my 25 years at SMU (three as an undergrad and 22 as an assistant for Rompola), we have shared many enjoyable moments as a staff,” said Dark. “The only reason I could stay on a staff so long is if my boss treated me well and Rompola does that. I have watched her mature and mellow over the years. Although I am not sure any of our current players would agree with that.”
It will never be said that Rompola is lacking in intensity. Her desire is that her players will take on her personality on the court and become a scrappy, gritty team. Rompola is not afraid to get in your face and hurt your feelings, if it helps you get better. All of her current and former players will attest to that.
“Playing under [Rompola] has made me more accountable for my performance because she is a really high intensity coach who is very competitive and she will get in the middle of your face if she knows you aren’t performing to your ability,” said senior Alisha Filmore. “I knew coming in that we would be working hard each and every day, because we had to maintain a certain level of excellence. Which is something I enjoyed because you never want to get too comfortable.”
Rompola knows that not everyone will be receptive of her “in your face” approach to coaching, which is to be expected with 13 to 15 women on a roster. Some players just won’t buy into the system or accept their role within the team. This can prove frustrating but it is apparent that after 22 seasons, Rompola has figured out how to deal with just about any kind of problem.
“Rhonda and I have had a love/hate relationship,” said junior Akil Simpson. “She is hard but its great because she cares. Knowing that a coach actually cares about your well-being is a great feeling. It makes it so much easier to give that coach everything when I play, because I know she will give me everything she has at a drop of a dime.”
The length of time she has spent at SMU is a testament to the trust and respect she has earned from the university.
As far as SMU is concerned, it couldn’t ask for a better coach. She has impacted the growth and development of her players on and off the court – instilling in them her drive for success.
“Rhonda is a special person and I know SMU feels lucky to have kept her this long,” said Dark. “She laughs, she loves the team and she fights for them and gets them to be fighters on the court. It’s pretty cool to have been a part of the Rompola tenure.”