Darin Spence named head women's basketball coach

New Mexico State University Athletics Director Brian Faison announced today that Darin Spence has been named head women's basketball coach. Spence comes to New Mexico State after posting a 317-80 record in 13 years as a women's head coach at the junior college and NAIA level.

By Matthew Aguilar El Paso Times LAS CRUCES -- Darin Spence, head coach at Cowley County Junior College in Arkansas City, Kan., for the last six years, is the new women's basketball coach at New Mexico State, Cowley athletics director Tom Saia said Monday.

Spence succeeds Nikita Lowry, who was reassigned in February. A press conference announcing Spence's hire is scheduled for 4 p.m. today at the Pan American Center.

"He'll bring an exciting brand of basketball," Saia said. "(And) his kids will graduate, which is his number one concern. And he'll run a quality program. I'm not only losing a great coach, but a good friend. He's a class act. (NMSU) is fortunate to get him."

Spence, who just completed his 18th year in college basketball, has also coached at Butler County Community College, Colby (Kansas) Junior College and Marymount College -- his alma mater. Spence's teams have captured seven league titles in 11 years. He coached former NMSU player Jenia Dimitrova at Cowley and was a rival of current UTEP coach Keith Green while Green was at Independence Community College.

Spence's hire comes days after University of Arkansas women's assistant Vic Schaefer declined NMSU's offer. Other candidates for the job included Seattle Pacific head coach Gordy Presnell; NMSU men's assistant and women's interim Elmer Chavez; and Louisiana Tech assistant Chris Long.

Spence visited Las Cruces March 31.

"I feel I've paid my dues at the junior college level," Spence, 41, said at the time. "This is kind of the next step in career progression. And I'm very impressed with the people I met with."

Spence's hire brings a close to a wild series of events that started upon Lowry being placed on administrative leave Dec. 20 for what Faison called "coaching management issues". Lowry was replaced by assistant Marlene Stollings, who guided the team to the top of the Sun Belt Conference standings before abruptly walking out -- along with assistants Joshua Pearson and Derek Jordan -- in protest of the university's handling of Lowry's administrative leave.

Chavez was named interim coach after the departures of Stolllings, Jordan and Pearson, helping the Aggies to a first-place finish in the Sun Belt's West Division.

The strange events continued through the weekend, when Schaeffer turned down NMSU's offer -- which he confirmed Monday.

Schaefer, who has been at Arkansas for six seasons, said family was the reason for his decision.

"My decision was based on two things," Schaefer said. "I just couldn't get my wife comfortable with moving to the desert. If you've never lived there, it's quite different compared to the hills of Arkansas, the mountains and the green. And (second), (it would be difficult) being that far from her mother."

Schaefer said he is exploring the possibility of becoming the associate head women's coach at Texas A&M. Gary Blair, Schaefer's boss at Arkansas, was recently named the new women's coach at Texas A&M.

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