When Jenna Cosgrove took over the Rhode Island College program, the Anchorwomen had won only 19 games in the three previous seasons combined and had finished bottom of the Little East Conference with five wins in 2016-17. Three years later, RIC won 22 games (second-most in program history) and reached the conference championship game.
Cosgrove, who played basketball for four years at Sharon and then at Endicott College, was named the Little East Coach of the Year for bringing the RIC program back to the top of the league standings.
“It’s bittersweet right now because we just lost in the championship,” Cosgrove said in a phone conversation a few days after RIC’s 49-44 loss to Eastern Connecticut State in the conference title game. “In year three to take the team to the championship and receive an honor like this speaks volumes of the growing respect for the program.”
Despite 22 wins this winter, RIC just missed out on an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament. Cosgrove still saw a lot of growth for the program this season. She said, “I tell the kids we now should be a top 25 team. It raises the standards really high and it’s exciting for the program. I think our girls will be fired up next year to try and come back and win a championship.”
Coaching is a family trait. Cosgrove’s grandfather Jack helped found the Pop Warner football program in Sharon, coached several sports, and the middle school field was recently named in his honor. Her uncle Jack is the winningest football coach in University of Maine history and is still active as the head coach at Colby College.
Her interest in the profession led to a sports management degree at Endicott and shortly after graduating from college led to her taking jobs coaching AAU basketball at Mass Premier and as an assistant for Sharon coach Kate Horsmann.
At the age of just 23, Cosgrove got the opportunity to be an administrative assistant and support staff for the women’s basketball program at Fordham. “I jumped at it,” she explained. “It was a big leap of faith for me because obviously I was transitioning from Sharon to the Bronx at 23 and I didn’t know anybody.”
She traveled with the team, helped out at games and at practices, and, after the head coach left at the end of the season, was part of the interview process for new coach Stephanie Gaitley. The Rams had gone nearly two decades without a winning record but Gaitley turned the Rams into perennial league title contenders and had 20-plus wins in six of her first eight seasons in charge.
Cosgrove became an assistant coach after three years and eventually was named recruiting coordinator. After seven years in the Bronx, she took another leap and became the head coach at RIC. She took her experience and a lot of what she learned from Gaitley to help turn things around for the Anchorwomen.
“That journey being in New York, that really defined me as a coach and I learned from one of the best in the business at that level, but I spent a lot of time there and it got me to this job because I wanted to be back home, I wanted to be closer to family,” said Cosgrove. “It got me back to my roots and to be a head coach.”
She added, “I learned how to change culture from [Stephanie]. When she took over that program, we were at the bottom of the Atlantic 10 and within three years we won an A-10 championship. When I got here, we were at the bottom and I knew we would need to bring in good players, which we’ve done, but a big part of it is building culture and building confidence.”
The first season in charge was tough, but RIC doubled its win total in year two, finishing 18-9 and making it to the LEC semifinal. This year was even better, RIC finished at 22-5. Cosgrove admitted that there was a lot to learn in her first head coaching position.
“Jumping from being an assistant to head coach taught me more in that first year about myself, but it’s the most rewarding experience and I love being a head coach and I wouldn’t change anything,” she said.
Her time as a member of the support staff at Fordham and especially her time in recruiting prepared her for the challenges that coaches at the DIII level face. With much smaller staffs, DIII coaches have their hands in have aspect of the program and Cosgrove said it was a “competitive edge,” although in the end coaching is still about being able to work with and get the most out of a group of student-athletes.
“It’s about being able to really relate to the kids and to motivate the kids and really have that close relationship off the court,” Cosgrove said. “I was a good athlete but I don’t know if I ever really reached my potential. Part of my desire to coach is to instill that in other kids and get them to reach their potential and maximize their opportunity.”
“t’s the player connection. It’s being able to impact a player’s life. I look at my season ending and my two seniors and those kids are going to be in my life forever, in terms of being able to help impact and change their life.”
Being in charge of a DI program is a typical ambition for anyone in the coaching profession, but Cosgrove isn’t looking ahead.
“Right now, I just live in the moment,” she said. “I’m not done here. I want to win a championship. I think going from DI to DIII gives a lot of perspective, you hit a stage where you do really value balance and I think I’m in a really good spot right now.”
RIC will be happy to have her coming back, hungrier than ever after getting to the program’s first LEC final since 2014.
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