Betsy Specketer spent a lot less time worrying about someday reaching 500 victories as the Salt Lake Community College women’s basketball coach than she did about being stuck on that number for one game too many.
The celebration of her achievement came during the Bruins’ next home appearance in late November and was a nice occasion, except the visiting Casper (Wyo.) College Thunderbirds didn’t play along. “My mind was just on that game, and we end up losing that game,” Specketer said. “That’s what keeps you up at night: ‘What could I have done differently?’ ”
That’s life in the coaching profession. The Bruins earned her 501st win the next night, and SLCC’s No. 9 ranking in the National Junior College Athletic Association reflects how Specketer’s program has become a brand name in her 22nd year on the job. Beginning in 2014, the Bruins have gone to the NJCAA tournament’s Sweet 16 twice, then the Elite Eight and the Final Four.
“I knew it was possible, but it was a challenge to get there,” said former SLCC athletic director Norma Carr.
Disregarding her suggestion that the Bruins have won hundreds of games “in spite of me,” Specketer just keeps getting better. As context for her 504 victories, Stew Morrill is the only coach in the state’s college basketball history with 600 wins, and one-third of those came before he arrived at Utah State.
In three more seasons, Specketer could pass former University of Utah women’s coach Elaine Elliott (582) for the most victories at one Utah school. Dixie State University men’s coach Jon Judkins is slightly ahead of Specketer with 510 wins overall, counting his Snow College tenure.
SELECT COMPANY<br>Records for coaches in Utah junior college and four-year basketball programs (ranked by win totals).<br>Elaine Elliott, Utah women • 582-234.<br>Jon Judkins, Snow JC/Dixie State men • 510-238.<br>Betsy Specketer, SLCC women • 504-187.<br>Norm Parrish, SLCC/Westminster men • 484-223.<br>Dave Rose, Dixie JC/BYU men • 480-170.<br>Stew Morrill, Utah State men • 402-156.<br>Vadal Peterson, Utah men • 385-230.<br>Stan Watts, Dixie JC/BYU men • 384-261.<br>Ron Abegglen, Snow JC/Weber State men • 364-158.<br>Cathy Nixon, UVU women • 359-318.<br>Jeff Judkins, BYU women • 355-167.<br>Jack Gardner, Utah men • 339-154.<br>Rick Majerus, Utah men • 323-95.<br>Fern Gardner, USU/Utah women • 319-97.<br>Carla Taylor, Weber State women • 308-341.
Specketer’s win total is a tribute to her consistency and longevity and endorses an SLCC administration that makes the school a good place to work. Norm Parrish, now Westminster College’s coach, spent 20 years in Taylorsville and won a men’s national championship in 2009 (his assistant, Todd Phillips, followed with a 2016 title; his 15-0 team is now ranked No. 4).
“I never really wanted to be someplace else,” Specketer said.
A graduate of Illinois State, where she played for Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame coach Jill Hutchison, Specketer coached in Illinois high schools for 10 years. She used some Utah connections to try the college level, joining SLCC as an assistant to Monica Starrett. Two years later, she was promoted to head coach in 1996, just when the Bruins moved from the old South High School gym to the Lifetime Activities Center on the Taylorsville campus.
In those days, she was known to be so tough on her players that parents regularly would complain to the school president. After one postgame lecture, Specketer advised Carr to make a pre-emptive warning: “You’d better call the president.”
She’s still demanding. In recruiting, she tells high school athletes that if they’re merely interested in playing basketball for fun, SLCC is the wrong place. She’s looking for players who want to win and move on to four-year schools.
Tilar Clark, now a University of Utah guard, led a 31-3 Bruins team that was ranked No. 1 for much of the 2015-16 season and made the NJCAA Elite Eight. Playing for Specketer created “a bumpy relationship at first,” Clark said. “As the season progressed, we just grew together … She’s just a good person to be around, when you need someone. I just knew she was somebody I could respect.”
Clark continued, “She’s just tough on us, making sure we knew what was coming at the next level. We just always had to perform at a certain standard, or that wasn’t good enough.”
The region’s junior college landscape has changed markedly in Specketer’s tenure. Dixie State and Utah Valley have become four-year schools and Ricks College (now BYU-Idaho) dropped intercollegiate athletics. In the ’90s, she just hoped to finish in the top three of the Scenic West Athletic Conference and was thrilled to “beat the teams we really shouldn’t,” Specketer said.
Her current roster includes seven Utahns but is more diverse than ever. SLCC’s top three scorers are from Australia, Hawaii and Oregon, and another player is from France. In-state recruiting remains Specketer’s priority, but she wants SLCC to be a national player.
That’s why she liked having her 500th win come in an elite-level tournament in Midland, Texas, where SLCC beat the host team in overtime. In a rare expression of any personal interest in No. 500, Specketer said she wished the milestone could have come in the semifinals against powerful Trinity Valley CC. “Now that,” she said, “would have been sweet.”
BETSY SPECKETER AT SLCC<br>1996-97 • 24-8<br>1997-98 • 17-12<br>1998-99 • 25-8<br>1999-2000 • 17-14<br>2000-01 • 23-9<br>2001-02 • 24-7<br>2002-03 • 24-8<br>2003-04 • 24-9<br>2004-05 • 23-10<br>2005-06 • 24-11<br>2006-07 • 28-7<br>2007-08 • 23-8<br>2008-09 • 17-15<br>2009-10 • 25-6<br>2010-11 • 24-5<br>2011-12 • 18-13<br>2012-13 • 19-11<br>2013-14 • 26-8<br>2014-15 • 27-7<br>2015-16 • 31-3<br>2016-17 • 30-6<br>2017-18 • 10-3<br>Total • 504-187