When Linda Lappe first came to Colorado as a freshman in the fall of 1998, she joined a basketball program with a proud history, but facing a rebuilding period. Over her five-year career as a player she helped lead the Buffaloes from a time of struggle to the doorstep of the Final Four.
In the spring of 2010, Lappe returned to Boulder, finding the Colorado program in a similar mode of rebuilding as she had when she arrived a decade earlier. But as she did as a player, her desire to return the Buffaloes back to prominence wouldn’t be denied.
Now five years into her reign as head coach of her alma mater, Lappe is proving once again to be a catalyst in the revival of Colorado basketball.
Lappe is 98-69 at Colorado, and in five seasons, ranks second in all-time coaching wins for the program – a milestone she reached in year four. She has guided the Buffaloes to four postseason berths: the 2013 NCAA Tournament and three Postseason WNIT appearances (2011-12, ‘14). The 2015-16 season will be her ninth overall as a collegiate head coach, sporting an eight-year mark of 148-105 which includes seven years with a record of .500 or better.
Colorado’s four-straight winning seasons, and post appearances, between 2010-14 was the program’s first since 2000-04; toward the tail end of Lappe’s playing career. Additionally, Colorado’s NCAA Tournament appearance in 2013 was its first since 2004.
Lappe brought Colorado back into the Associated Press national rankings for 25 straight weeks spanning parts of two seasons, from Dec. 17, 2012, to Jan. 13, 2014. Her team reached as high as No. 11 in the AP poll and No. 14 in the USA Today Sports coaches’ poll during the 2013-14 nonconference schedule.
Bolstered by a statement-making upset win over then No. 8-ranked and eventual national runner-up Louisville, Lappe helped Colorado to its first AP Top 25 ranking since 2008, debuting at No. 25 on Dec. 17, 2012. With the initial ranking, Lappe became the eighth NCAA Division I women’s basketball coach to play for an AP ranked team and then return to lead that same program back into the AP poll. Overall she was the 31st person to coach and play for an AP ranked women’s team.
She picked up her 100th collegiate coaching win, and 50th at Colorado, with an 84-39 victory over New Mexico on Dec. 29, 2012. That win also clinched the Buffaloes’ second-straight perfect nonconference regular season record (11-0). Colorado would extend its preseason success into 2013-14, winning its first nine games and establishing a 33-game nonconference regular season win streak which ended only after dropping a competitive 69-62 decision by No. 7 ranked Louisville on the road in December 2013.
Lappe has coached a pair of first-team all-conference performers, one for each league she’s coached in. Lappe guided Chucky Jeffery to back-to-back All-Pac-12 honors in 2012 & ‘13 and Brittany Spears to All-Big 12 accolades in 2010-11.
Lappe helped mentor Spears, CU’s all-time leading scorer, into a 2011 WNBA second round draft pick (No. 19 overall) by the Phoenix Mercury. Two years later, her team celebrated Jeffery being selected by the Minnesota Lynx in the second round (No. 24 overall) of the 2013 WNBA Draft. Jeffery would go on to play 17 games for the New York Liberty spanning the 2013 and '14 seasons.
Her staff has also been successful on the recruiting trail with five strong classes, including the 23rd ranked recruiting class in the nation in 2015 according to ProspectsNation.com, and the 27th rated class in 2013 by ESPN’s HoopGurlz.
Her 2014-15 squad finished 15-17, battling through injuries and an extremely competitive schedule. Colorado had the 26th toughest schedule in the nation based on overall winning percentage (.597). Eight nonconference opponents advanced to postseason play, plus the Buffaloes endured one of the most competitive Pac-12 seasons in recent years. Five teams would make the NCAA Tournament, the league’s most in nine seasons, plus another two in the WNIT.
The Buffaloes still turned heads on a national stage by pulling off the largest upset in Pac-12 Tournament history. Colorado, the No. 9 seed, toppled regular season champion and top seed Oregon State 68-65 in the quarterfinals, becoming the lowest seed to ever defeat a No. 1 in the history of the event. With that win the Buffaloes joined California and Stanford as the only three Pac-12 schools to reach the Pac-12 semifinals twice in the last three years.
The win over the No. 8/9 ranked Beavers was her fourth over a ranked opponent and second against a top 10 foe.
Lappe led Colorado to a 19-15 record in 2013-14, advancing to the third round of the Postseason WNIT. After a 9-0 start led the Buffaloes to a No. 11 AP national ranking, Colorado was hit by the injury bug, and a slow start to Pac-12 play. However, as in previous years, the Buffaloes found momentum late in the season, winning five of their final eight games through a fourth-straight postseason appearance.
In her third season, Lappe led Colorado to a 25-7 mark and a fourth place finish in the Pac-12 at 13-5, its most overall wins since 1995-96 and league wins since 1994-95.
When the Buffaloes heard their name called on NCAA Selection Monday, she became one of eight head coaches to play for and coach the same program in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament as Colorado was invited to the Big Dance for the 13th time in program history.
Colorado’s 2012-13 individual awards were plentiful to say the least. Arielle Roberson was named the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, while earning honorable mention to both the All-Pac-12 and league All-Defensive teams. Brittany Wilson earned All-Pac-12 Defensive honors while Jeffery and Rachel Hargis were given honorable mention along with Roberson.
Her second season (2011-12) couldn’t have started any better. Colorado swept its 11-game nonconference regular season schedule and with its first ever Pac-12 win, a 58-52 come-from-behind classic at Utah in the opener, CU equaled the second-best start in school history at 12-0.
Colorado also achieved its first conference tournament win since 2007 and advanced to the quarterfinals of the 2012 Postseason WNIT for the second straight season.
At the time of her hire, Lappe, now 35, was the youngest head women's basketball coach at a BCS (now Power 5) conference school, behind only Jamie Craighead (Sacramento State) and Candace Whittaker (UMKC). Just a couple months after her 30th birthday, she became the second-youngest to be named head coach of the CU women's team. Lappe’s mentor, CU Athletic Hall of Fame coach Ceal Barry, was 28 when named on April 12, 1983, exactly 27 years to the date of her own hiring.
Possibly surprising to those outside the program, but not those who played or coached with her previously, Lappe's first year turned heads of outsiders immediately. With an emphasis on team, Lappe helped Colorado's squad thrive. She inherited a team with only six healthy returning players, three of which had limited playing experience. Lappe meshed the returners with three newcomers who all contributed significant minutes.
Picked to finish last in its final season as a member of the Big 12 Conference, Colorado surprised naysayers with a 6-10 record, good enough for an eighth place tie in a league that sent seven teams to the NCAA Tournament. Her first CU team finished 18-16 overall, advancing to the quarterfinals of the 2011 Postseason WNIT.
Lappe was the only rookie NCAA Division I head coach with wins over ranked teams in 2010-11, both wins special in their own way.
The first win was a 66-60 overtime triumph over No. 17 (AP)/16 (ESPN/USA Today/WBCA) ranked Iowa State. The victory provided Lappe with her first Big 12 win and came against her home state school.
Her second win over a ranked opponent provided a different set of circumstances. Needing wins in three of their final four regular season games to ensure postseason eligibility, Lappe's squad didn't waste any time by knocking off No. 16/15 Oklahoma (73-68) in Boulder. The Buffaloes then proceeded to win two straight road games, their first road wins of the season, to clinch their WNIT berth. Lappe became one of three NCAA I rookie head coaches to lead a team into the 2011 postseason, guiding Colorado to wins over UC Riverside, future Pac-12 rival California at home and on the road at Wyoming.
A key contributor as a player for some very prominent Colorado women's basketball teams, Lappe was named the seventh head coach in the program's history by then-athletic director Mike Bohn on April 12, 2010, just under a decade removed from her playing career at her alma mater.
Lappe returned full circle to the Buffaloes after a three-year stint as head coach at Metropolitan State College in Denver. She was 50-36 at Metro State, guiding the Roadrunners to top-three finishes and winning records in the Eastern Division of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference in each of her three seasons.
Her 2009-10 squad finished 17-12 overall before ending the season in the RMAC Tournament semifinals against the eventual NCAA Division II national runner up in Fort Lewis (Colo.) College. She had two players earn RMAC All-Eastern Division honors in 2010 in Kristin Valencia and Chelsea Williamson and Valencia was tabbed as the East Division Defensive Player of the Year.
Lappe's 2007-08 Metro State team posted a 19-10 overall record, finished second in the RMAC's East Division and qualified for the conference tournament. Metro State put together a season-high nine-game winning streak during the season and ranked third in the RMAC in scoring defense.
She landed her first head coaching job after four years as an assistant at the NCAA Division I level, three with Drake University (2004-06) and one with Colorado State (2006-07).
Lappe was hired at Colorado State by Jen Warden, a former Colorado assistant who was on the bench with Barry during Lappe's playing career. At CSU, Lappe was the recruiting coordinator and also worked with the Rams' backcourt players.
Lappe began her collegiate coaching career at Drake where she spent three years on Amy Stephens' staff, helping the Bulldogs to a 47-42 mark. She assisted Drake to WNIT appearances in 2004 and 2006 and helped sign a Top 50 class that would go on to help the Bulldogs claim the 2007 Missouri Valley Conference Championship.
A two-year captain and All-Big 12 honorable mention selection, Lappe averaged 7.8 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.0 assists in 115 games from 1998-2003. She helped Colorado to three consecutive NCAA appearances from 2001-03, including an Elite Eight appearance in 2002 and a spot in the Sweet 16 as a senior in 2003.
Lappe averaged 8.4 points and 4.4 rebounds as a senior 2003 while dishing out 96 assists, and shooting 84.3 percent from the free throw line as the Buffaloes finished 24-8 and fourth in the Big 12. She was a finalist for the V Foundation Comeback of the Year award after missing large chunks of her sophomore and redshirt junior years with injuries.
She missed the first 11 games the 2001-02 season, but worked her way back into the lineup for CU's Elite Eight squad averaging 4.6 points and 2.9 rebounds per game against a brutal schedule that included 16 games against ranked teams.
Lappe helped CU to a 22-9 mark in 2000-01 and the team's first NCAA appearance since 1997. She led the Big 12 in free throw percentage at 85.9 percent and tallied seven points and nearly three rebounds per contest.
As a freshman in 1998-99 Lappe was CU's offensive MVP after she led the team in scoring (10.7 ppg), free throws made (91) and percentage (.827), assists (3.8 apg) and steals (1.7 spg) as the Buffs made their first ever postseason WNIT appearance. She played just two games as a sophomore in 1999-2000 before a broken knee cap ended her season.
A three-time first team Academic All-Big 12 honoree, Lappe graduated from CU with her bachelor's degree in business administration in 2002. She is a native of Morning Sun, Iowa, where she had a stellar prep career. An honorable mention Street & Smith's All-American, she graduated from Winfield-Mount Union High School with prep records in career points (1,987), steals (402), steals in a season (111), steals in a game (10), career assists (652), season assists (208), single game assists (14) and a 110-3 (.974) career record.
She was a first-team Class A (the smallest classification in Iowa) all-state selection from 1996 to 98 and a second-team all-Iowa pick following her freshman year. Her Winfield-Mount Union teams were the Class A state champions in 1995 and 96 and her 1997 team went 28-0 before being upset in the state semifinals, snapping an 80-game win streak. Her 1998 Winfield-Mount Union team would also return to the state finals. In 2009 Lappe was inducted into the Iowa Girls Basketball Hall of Fame.
The daughter of Tom and Jean Lappe, she has two siblings who both played college basketball. Her older brother Burt is a graduate of Northern Iowa, and her younger brother Jake is a graduate of Luther (Iowa) College.