Woodin Finds Home with Yellowjackets, GNAC
MSUB women's basketball coach Kevin Woodin earned GNAC Coach of the Month honors for his team's 7-1 performance in January.
MSUB women's basketball coach Kevin Woodin earned GNAC Coach of the Month honors for his team's 7-1 performance in January.

Saturday, February 1, 2014
by Evan O'Kelly, Media Relations Assistant

PORTLAND, Ore. – Based on his last name, Kevin Woodin seemed destined for a career as a head basketball coach. Though spelled differently than the all-time legend John Wooden of UCLA, Woodin has settled in as a prominent figure at his current post as head women's basketball coach at Montana State University Billings. The 10-year veteran was named Great Northwest Athletic Conference Coach of the Month for his team’s outstanding 7-1 performance in January, and his pathway to success hinted all along that he would end up in the GNAC. 


For the first six years of his life, wherever his father could find work is where Woodin called home. James Woodin was a dam worker, and sparse employment opportunities dictated his family’s sporadic location and relocation at any given point in time. 

When the Woodins landed in Libby, Mont., when Kevin was still in elementary school, he found his first true home, where he would grow and eventually graduate from Libby High School before attending Carroll College in Helena. “From Montana I went over to Seattle and spent my first seven years teaching and coaching at O’Dea High School,” Woodin said regarding the all-boys Catholic school. “It was a great experience.”

Realizing his desire to start a family, Woodin and his wife decided to move back to Montana, where he landed a job teaching math at Billings West High School. “At the time, the only coaching position that was open was girls’ basketball, and I was a little bit weary of that,” Woodin commented on his lack of experience teaching girls, let alone coaching them in basketball. “It took me a couple of years to settle in, but I was able to dig my roots into Billings and had a great time at the high school.”

Woodin spent the next decade developing his love for coaching basketball and watching his students grow and flourish. In addition to his duties at the high school, Woodin tried his hand at the collegiate level as a volunteer assistant with the Montana State Billings women’s team. “At the time, Montana high school girls’ basketball was a fall sport, so I tried to spend as much time as I could at the college level,” Woodin remembered about his first encounters at MSUB. “In the early 2000’s, things changed to the current format, and I wasn’t able to volunteer anymore because the schedules overlapped.”

While Woodin had to abandon his duties with the MSUB staff, the tacet from the college game would prove to be only temporary.


When Woodin saw the opportunity for the women’s head coaching job arise in 2004, he jumped on it. “I actually didn’t get the job the first time I applied for it, but I reapplied a year later and have been here ever since,” Woodin recalled about taking over the MSUB women’s program.

Woodin soon drew parallels between his nomadic lifestyle as a child and the insurmountable travel his team’s schedule with the NCAA Division II Heartland Conference required. “One of the greater challenges of my career was when I first took over and we were an independent school, which caused a lot of problems regarding scheduling,” Woodin commented on MSUB’s difficult geographic location. “In my third year we joined the Heartland, but all of the schools were in Oklahoma and Texas, and we would be gone five or six days at a time.”

Since joining GNAC play as a full member in the 2007-08 season, Woodin noted an uptick in both the quality of his team’s play and the competition it faced as well. “Since we have been in the GNAC game quality has been much higher and the depth of talent in teams is great,” Woodin said regarding the 10-team field of competition.

While travel is still a major hurdle in the Yellowjackets’ schedule, the team’s current situation in the GNAC is much better than previous formats. “In terms of Division II opponents, we will be an outlier no matter what league we are in, and the amount of travel and missed time will always be hard,” Woodin said about his squad’s remote location. “It is nice to be in a league that is somewhat regional, and luckily we have been able to recruit good student-athletes who have handled the situation well.”


In the 2013-14 GNAC preseason coaches’ poll, MSUB found itself at the top looking down, as Woodin’s Yellowjackets were favored by his peers to win the league. So far, the prediction has held true as MSUB sits atop the GNAC standings with an 8-2 conference record and eight games left in regular season play. MSUB has won five games in a row, is a perfect 9-0 at home and appears to be firing on all cylinders.

Carrying a similar five-game winning streak into the beginning of conference play in December however, MSUB was humbled in a difficult 90-59 loss to Alaska Anchorage on the first weekend of its GNAC schedule. “Early December in Alaska was definitely a turning point for our team, as we absolutely got our clocks cleaned by Anchorage and didn’t compete,” Woodin said regarding the early season setback.

The Yellowjackets responded two days later with a strong 83-46 win over Alaska Fairbanks that appeared to spark a shift in mentality for Woodin’s squad. “Our players just re-focused themselves the next day and said, ‘hey, we have more ability than this,’” Woodin said. “Just having people think you’ll be good is not enough in this league, and you really have to bring it every day.” 

Since the loss in Alaska, MSUB has brought it’s A-Game on a nightly basis, winning all but one of its past nine GNAC contests. Not only have the Yellowjackets won, but they have controlled games. Only two of their eight conference wins were decided by less than 10 points, and their average margin of victory in GNAC play is 18.7 points. MSUB was named GNAC Team of the Week last week as a reward for its excellence as of late. 

Individually, Bobbi Knudsen leads the way with 17.2 points per game, is among conference leaders in nearly every major offensive category, and is a legitimate candidate for GNAC Player of the Year. Kayleen Goggins, Janiel Olson, and Chelsea Banis are three more all-conference caliber players who have elevated their games and contributed heavily to MSUB’s success.


“The last three years we have qualified for the GNAC tournament, but we really wanted to go deeper this year than in years past,” Woodin commented on his team’s aspirations coming into the 2013-14 season. “We really just talked about giving a great effort every day, and making yourself and your teammates better players.” 

Woodin credits much of the team’s even-keel mindset to his assistant coaches, Nathaniel Harris and Jenny Heringer. “I have been fortunate to have such a great staff with Nate and Jenny, our players are second-to-none, and we all enjoy one another both on and off the court,” Woodin said regarding his assistants’ important connection with their players.

The Yellowjackets’ season has not been one without setbacks, and the largest came most recently with a season-ending injury to starter Annie DePuydt. The junior guard had started 16 games and was averaging more than eight points per contest before learning that a knee injury required major surgery and would cut her 2013-14 campaign short.

While the loss is significant on the court for the Yellowjackets, the bond the team shares is what Woodin believes displays the team’s resiliency through even the toughest situations. “There is a deep caring for one another on this team and we have a lot of experienced players that are hungry for success,” Woodin commented on his team’s chemistry. “When I watch this team, whether they win or lose, they truly enjoy being around each other and playing together and for one another.” 

Knudsen’s ability as a senior leader both on and off the court has proven invaluable to MSUB, as she recently became the first woman in GNAC history to be named to the Capital One Academic All-District team for three consecutive years. “Bobbi does a great job of keeping our team focused and at the same time doing the little things to make sure it’s a fun experience for everyone,” Woodin said as a testament to the 2012-13 All-American’s leadership.

MSUB’s current momentum has the team poised for a postseason run, as the Yellowjackets have all-but clinched one of the top seeds in the GNAC tournament. Through the final stretch of the conference schedule, Woodin urges that maintaining balance and steady progression will be the most important factors in the team’s potential to succeed. “We were better January first than we were December first, and now I think we are better February first than we were January first,” Woodin said regarding his team’s development throughout the season. “We really need to keep our mentality right where it is, and that sounds simple but it is really hard to do.”

After Saturday’s road game against Simon Fraser, MSUB will host five of its final seven GNAC games heading into the postseason. The Yellowjackets will welcome the Seawolves of Alaska Anchorage on the final day of the season, looking to be in top form for the team who provided them the early-season wake-up call. “We want to peak down the stretch in late February into early March,” Woodin said regarding the final month of the conference schedule.

“I think we have responded very well to adversity and that’s what basketball is all about,” Woodin said. “When something goes wrong, you need others to pick up their game, and if we can keep that mentality we have a chance to have a special season.”