600 and counting: Harrer becomes 21st to reach wins milestone in D-III history


When the final horn sounded on Feb. 1 inside of the Ursprung Gymnasium, Baldwin Wallace Women’s Basketball coach Cheri Harrer cemented her legacy in college basketball.

Exponent Staff
Exponent Staff

The team had just completed the season sweep of Muskingum, something Harrer’s team has done for the last eleven years. Their last loss to Muskingum came on Valentine’s Day in 2009. But this season’s sweep was special. Not because it was BW’s 22nd consecutive victory over Muskingum, or that it was their 3rd in a row on their way to their second eight-game winning streak with one left to play. But because this win over Muskingum marked Harrer’s 600th career win as an NCAA basketball coach

And for Harrer, who was more focused on the teams shaking hands and completing their post-game ritual of inviting the opposing team to center-court for a short prayer, it was just another day at the office.

It was normal until the ‘600’ jersey was brought through the door. “600 wins is a very remarkable record,” BW’s Senior Vice President Dick Fletcher said. “Coaching for 30 years at one place is remarkable and to put together a team and a group of people behind you that encourage her to achieve the success she envisioned.”

Players recognized the magnitude of the event, and senior guard Kara Marshall recognized that the dedication Harrer puts into the game goes beyond just competing for records, “I just think she puts so much effort into our team through game preparation and practice planning. She spends countless hours watching film and making sure we are fully ready to take on our opponents that week,” Marshall said. “Celebrating her 600th win was a ton of fun and dancing with everyone in the locker room after wins has been really cool.”

For the last 30 years, Harrer has had many titles on the BW campus. From Professor, to Faculty Member, and most consistently, Coach, Harrer has been the head coach of the women’s team since 1990, and in her 30th season, the Yellow Jackets have a chance at being the best team she has ever coached.BW sits at 22-2, with the last season with three or fewer losses coming in 2007-08, and previously in each season between 1998 and 2001 with BW winning the OAC Championship in each of those four seasons and reaching the Elite Eight in 2000.

And speaking of that Elite Eight appearance, Harrer says that it is one of those moments that she reflects on often. “We played ‘Wash U’ (Washington-St. Louis) for a chance to go to the Final Four,” Harrer recalled. “We played as well as we could have against a team in the middle of a four-year NCAA run, and won the tournament all four years. We’re on their court, they have two All-Americans, and they’re just loaded. We took a lead in the second half, but they pulled away and they won in the Final Four and Championship game by 30- and 40-point margins. So, we played them better than any other team that year and our team left it all on the court and that has been one of my most proud moments as a coach.”

After the team’s first Elite Eight appearance, Harrer led the Yellow Jackets to another one in 2006 but has only gotten past the Round of 32 once since then. But each year she uses the success of those former teams to motivate her current players, knowing that their window is only four years long to reach the top of the mountain. “Chasing championships for that year’s group motivates me,” Harrer said. “Every year it’s that mentality that I would love nothing more for this group to win a championship. You know, I’ve done it plenty of times, but I want them to see the results of their hard work and to get that fulfillment and satisfaction because they only get four chances.”

All over campus, Harrer’s success has been seen. From successful recruiting, to the team’s classroom success Fletcher says that she has perfected the model of Division III recruiting. “I think she has a keen sense of what it takes to be successful here, both as a player and as a student athlete,” Fletcher said. “She only recruits those student athletes that she knows can thrive in her environment, and those that will benefit the most from the types of experiences they can have on this campus. I think having the self-awareness of what she can impact is important for a coach to have. It’s one thing to know the X’s and O’s but she also goes much deeper than that to understand why her athletes are here and how they want to succeed on the court and in the classroom.”

And Harrer knows that BW goes deeper than other schools, “We identify most of our recruits when they are sophomores or juniors and then we build those relationships before they even step foot on campus,” Harrer said. “And if we identify that they aren’t of the right character or a great teammate and don’t have a great work ethic, generally they won’t stay on our list.”

But even after finding the perfect candidates, being a team takes a team effort.

Harrer has coached 12 of the 15 top scorers in school history, 12 of the 15 players that secured more than 500 rebounds, and 10 of the 13 athletes with more than 250 assists. Harrer constantly has built up the idea of a team being more important than one, starting with her, “I think that’s how you win championships,” Harrer said. “A lot of teams have 1,000-point scorers that never win championships. We know that you need that balance because on nights when your top scorer is having a rough night, if you have a team you can still win.

Harrer was inducted into the Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame in 2017, which is something that Athletic Director Kris Diaz said, just adds to her BW legacy. “I don’t think there is any doubt she has built a legacy here at BW,” Diaz said with a chuckle. “It will be hard to beat or even repeat by the time she is finished. And I think it adds to the fact that if you look at BW across all the sports, we have had a number of outstanding leaders in their respective sports. Cheri has already been elected into the Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame and I think that is just another symbol of her successes in the world of basketball.”

But when you’re a coach at the Division III level, there’s an assumed extra level of mentor. For many division III athletes, this is the last stop of their athletic careers and coaches help prepare students for that reality, something that Diaz says, as a former coach, is something that not many outsiders even think about. “I think she does a great job of using the sport of basketball to teach life lessons,” Diaz said. “I’d say that many of the young ladies who have come through the program would say that it is more than basketball, that they learned a lot about the game but also about how to turn into great young women in their classrooms and in their majors and even after they graduate.”

Harrer’s impact goes beyond the court, in the classroom her Yellow Jackets are competing with some of the best academic scores possible, and Fletcher recognizes Harrer’s dedication off the court, “She was a student athlete herself, and understands how a team can help and interact on and off the court,” Fletcher said. “The thing that presses upon me, is that she does so many things in the preseason that are not basketball related, but it helps build the mutual support system that successful teams need to have. Not all coaches do that, but she does it very well and she’s never afraid to get on a student who she thinks can do better in the classroom.”

She has also taught her athletes to never settle, something that Diaz admires as a former coach, “I don’t think there’s any doubt that she’s a great example of someone who has been very successful, but never stopped learning,” Diaz said. “She’s always striving to get better whether it’s team culture, or a play or even how to recruit a little better. And I think that’s a quality of a great coach and one of the reasons she has been so successful.”

Harrer’s dedication on the court outside of games also has been recognized. She said that her teams have always understood the importance of practice and coming together. “I’ve been blessed to have been able to coach a lot of great players, to be at a place like BW where you can win and recruit, not just great players, but great young ladies,” Harrer said. “Practice is like our classroom and the games are exams. Practice days are a really big deal and our team knows that. I would say that our practices have produced more wins than our performances in games just because it’s when they come together.”

Over the course of the last 30 years, Harrer has had offers to move up through the ranks of college basketball, but early on decided that Baldwin Wallace was home. Diaz knows that at the college level, that is uncommon and has found comfort in the fact he hasn’t had to complete any head coach searches, “I think it’s interesting because now a days you don’t see coaches going to one place and staying for a length of time, let alone 30 years,” Diaz said. “I think that shows her commitment and dedication to BW and in return shows BW’s commitment to the program.”

Harrer said the decision was relatively simple. “We can win here on a national level,” Harrer said. “And then when I think of all the special people I have gotten to coach and when you think about leaving them it is very difficult to think about. Early on I was a GA for a Division I school, and my alma mater is now a Division II school, and you can see the grass isn’t always greener. You can make a lot more money, but the grass isn’t always greener.”