Rob Clune Trying To Bring Another PAC Program To Prominence

By John D’Abruzzo


Rob Clune led the Bethany men to PAC titles in 2001 and 2002.

Rob Clune expected to experience some hardships when he first took over the Thiel College women’s basketball program in 2012.

Despite inheriting a team with two 1,000-point career scorers in Kelly Barzak and Kelly Muffley, the Tomcats and Clune soon realized they would need to find offense elsewhere once those two veteran players graduated in 2013.

“We were in a position where our talent level kind of went down,” said Clune, who’s in his third year coaching Thiel. “We saw where we had backup players all of the sudden need to be role players.

“We want to continue to build depth and continuity. In the past here, I think they saw a lot of turnover with players coming in and then deciding they didn’t want to play anymore or leave.

“We’re now building a little bit more of stability to where I like where I thought we would be.”

This isn’t the first time Clune had to retool a program.

Clune coached the men’s team at nearby Allegheny College for close to a decade before heading over to Greenville. Before that, however, he coached the Bethany men’s program from 1995 until 2002 and slowly turned the Bison into a regular contender in the Presidents’ Athletic Conference.

Although his Bethany team lost a program-worst 22 games during his third season in West Virginia, Clune guided the Bison to back-to-back conference championships in 2001 and 2002. During the 2001-02 season, Bethany went 21-7 and won its first NCAA Division III tournament game since 1978.

“We certainly had some good teams,” said Clune, who earned consecutive PAC Coach of the Year honors in 2001 and 2002. “We had some great players and some really great team chemistry. We had a lot of hard workers who competed. It was a lot of fun.”

A 1981 graduate of Albany State, Clune was a standout player and earned First Team All-SUNYAC honors as a senior. He helped lead the Great Danes to three NCAA Tournament appearances and was later inducted into Albany State’s athletic Hall of Fame in 1999.

This season, Thiel has been fighting to stay out of the bottom portion of the PAC standings. After suffering a 100-33 loss Feb. 7 against conference-frontrunner and still-undefeated Thomas More, the Tomcats fell to 5-16 overall and 4-10 against opposing PAC teams.

“We went into this season looking at our team being strong inside with size, but on the perimeter we’re not deep with ball handlers,” Clune said. “We knew we would need to utilize our inside play. We have a couple of strong kids who have been had some good moments.

“It’s still a challenge when you go up against teams that have depth at guards. In this league, you need to have depth at the guard position.”

Watkins 2

Jaclyn Watkins averages nearly a double-double per game.

Jaclyn Watkins, a 6-foot junior forward, has had a lot of good moments this season. Through 20 games, she was averaging 17.7 points and 8.5 rebounds a game.

“As the season’s gone on we’ve improved,” Clune said. “We reduced turnovers and have tried to stay in close games.

“We’ve seen our younger players continue to get better with experience and our older players take leadership roles and help those younger players.”

The Tomcats did pick up a big conference win Feb. 4 against Chatham College. Watkins sank a pair of key foul shots with 15 seconds left in the game to push the Tomcats to a 55-53 victory. Watkins finished the game with 17 points and 10 rebounds.

“I think we’re OK in position to make the playoffs,” Clune said. “We have some games coming up that we can win if we play well.

“As we reach the final few weeks of the regular season, our challenge will be to keep improving. ”