ATLANTA — App State women’s basketball assistant coach Cristina Centeno was named to the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Thirty Under 30 presented by Marriott Bonvoy and Morgan Stanley Global Sports & Entertainment honorees for the 2019-20 season.
Announced the organization on March 18, the Thirty Under 30 program recognizes 30 up-and-coming coaches age 30 and under at all levels of women’s basketball.
“Cristina is one of the top young assistant coaches in the country,” head coach Angel Elderkin said in a statement. “I’m honored to have her as an assistant coach, and I’m very proud of her for what she’s accomplished. She’s a great game-planner and a teacher of the game. Her passion and energy sets her apart. Her potential is limitless.”
Centeno is one of two assistant coaches from the Sun Belt — Alaina Jordan of Coastal Carolina is the other — and joins coaches from other schools such as Arizona, Baylor, Louisville, Maryland, Notre Dame, and Vanderbilt.
Arriving for the 2017-18 season, Centeno is responsible for recruiting, scouting, player development and coaching up the point guards. She’s also played a pivotal role in the Mountaineers’ community service efforts.
This season, Centeno helped Ashley Polacek become one of two players in the Sun Belt to lead her team in 3-pointers made and assists per game, while Brooke Bigott put up career highs across the board, leading the team in 3-point field goal percentage (36.9 percent) and finishing second in 3-pointers made and assists per game.
Nicola Mathews was the leading 3-point shooter off the bench, hitting a team-best this season six trifectas on the road against Arkansas State.
Centeno helped the Mountaineers capture a WBI Title in 2018-19, collecting 22 wins and one of the top turnarounds in the nation her second year. App State improved its win total by 14 victories from 2017-18 to 2018-19, tying the program record for the largest win improvement in program history.
App State finished 10-8 in league action with a fifth-place finish en route to its deepest run in the Sun Belt Tournament to the semifinals.
“In a business where I am surrounded by so many young professionals, I feel extremely blessed to be recognized by the WBCA as a Thirty Under 30 Honoree,” Centeno said in a statement. “The passion I have for this game is one that is hard for me to contain at times. I am very grateful every day to be able to get up and coach basketball, and I am equally grateful for the amazing people this game has put in my life to exude my passion. The opportunity to impact
lives on and off the court will always inspire me to do more.”
She turned the backcourts into one of the best in the league in 2018-19. In Centeno and Polacek’s first season together, Polacek led the Mountaineers in assists per game at a rate of 4.4 per game, which was tied for second in the Sun Belt. The Canadian floor general’s 158 assists were second in the league as well, while her 1.5 assist/turnover ratio was sixth in the conference. Polacek led all collegiate players from Canada in assists per game, while she was the only player in the league to average at least 10 points and four helpers per game.
Polacek notched 14 of her 17 games in double figures over the last 23 contests in the season. She put forth three 20-point outings, highlighted by a career-high 27 points at UTA. The redshirt junior averaged 15 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.0 assists over a 4-0 stretch in the WBI Tournament.
Centeno helped the trio of Bigott, Mathews and Tierra Wilson become viable options off the bench. Wilson went from the starting point guard to the team’s leading scorer off the bench, draining a team-high 57 3-pointers and averaging 7.6 points per game.
Wilson led all players with five starts or less coming off the bench in 3-point shooting.
Mathews continued her trend of hitting 3-pointers and showcasing her court vision, specifically in non-conference play. Mathews led the team in 3-point field goal percentage (.426) and fourth in assists per game. Bigott appeared in 29 of 36 games and had the sixth-most assists.
Bigott scored a career-high 14 points on the road against Coastal Carolina. Thirty-seven percent of her rebounds were on the offensive end, corralling 16 of her 43 rebounds on that end.
In 2017-18, Centeno’s development of the point guards in Wilson and Mathews proved to be pivotal as Wilson made a splash in her first year in, finishing second on the team in scoring (10.2 ppg) and first in 3-pointers with 56. Wilson was third among freshman in scoring, first in free throw percentage (.811), second in 3-pointers made and 3-pointers made per game and first in minutes per game at a clip of 34.1.
Also playing in her first season, Mathews led the way averaging 3.0 assists per game and tied for second on the team with 38 trifectas. The Australian made big plays that season including a 3-pointer against Arkansas State that proved to be the game-winner at the Holmes Center. Mathews finished 11th in the conference in assists per game and 10th in assist/turnover ratio at 0.8.
Before App State, Centeno spent four seasons at Le Moyne where she was responsible for player development and recruiting. Le Moyne finished with a winning record in three out of the four seasons, while in her first season, the Dolphins improved from six to 15 wins overall and four to 10 wins in conference play.