By Scott Manze
JACKSONVILLE (Special to SportsDay) – Jacksonville University Athletics announced the hiring of Special Jennings as its new head women’s basketball coach on Monday.
“Today marks an exciting moment for our women’s basketball program and university as we welcome Special Jennings as our head coach,” said Senior Vice President/Athletic Director Alex Ricker-Gilbert. “Special is a national championship-level coach, a world-class recruiter and has mentored some of the top women’s basketball players in the country. She knows how to rebuild a program and will be an outstanding role model for our student-athletes. We are ecstatic to have Special and her wife Amber join the Jacksonville University community.”
“From the moment I came onto the Jacksonville campus, this place just felt right,” said Jennings, who becomes the fifth head coach in the history of the program. “The atmosphere just made me feel wanted. Everyone on this campus, from the athletic department to the President, share the same electricity, wanting to see the women’s basketball program succeed.”
“I want to thank President Tim Cost and Alex Ricker-Gilbert for entrusting me to rejuvenate this program and give JU fans, alumni and the city of Jacksonville a team that will exude class, confidence and excellence, both on- and off-the-court.”
In three years at Monteverde Academy, she captured back-to-back GEICO High School National Championships, the first titles of its kind in school history. She guided the Eagles to a 26-1 mark this past season and compiled an overall 68-6 record in her three years at the helm, helping reestablish the Florida prep school as one of the preeminent high school programs in the country.
“I’d like to acknowledge the players, coaches, support staff and administration at Monteverde Academy. When we came into the program, we didn’t know what to expect, didn’t have a blueprint, not a recipe for success, but only a vision that would take everyone putting aside their personal accolades and ego to achieve excellence, which those young ladies did so with grace, so I thank them,” said Jennings.
“Winning championships is a great accomplishment, but what I’m most proud of is how we impacted those young ladies’ lives in the community, in the classroom and in their everyday quest to be the best human beings they can be. I’m forever grateful to Kasey Kesselring, Khrystal Phiri and Jon Hopman for entrusting me to make Monteverde Academy Girls Basketball a national contender. The program is set up for success and I look forward to cheering the Lady Eagles on in the future.”
Jennings was named a finalist for Naismith Girl’s High School Coach of the Year back in February 2023. In her time in Monteverde, she oversaw the development of 14 players who went on to Division I programs and multiple who received top honors, including McDonald’s All-Americans, NIKE Hoops Summit athletes, Baden All-Americans, Jordan Brand Classic selections and several other recognitions.
As an acknowledgment of her developmental acumen, she was selected to serve as a coach for USA Basketball at the NIKE Hoops Summit, a showcase of the top women’s basketball prospects in the country, which was held in Portland, Oregon on April 8.
Prior to her first head coach position, Jennings spent two years on staff at UIC, where she was elevated to the position of Associate Head Coach in her second season. She was part of Head Coach Tasha Pointer’s first two seasons and help recruit and develop the next wave of players for the Flames. Jada Nneji was named to the Horizon League All-Defensive Team both years that Jennings coached in Chicago.
Her experience coaching in Florida started as an assistant at Flagler College in the 2017-18 season. She helped the Saints to a 16-win conference season and 18-9 record overall in her lone season in St. Augustine, helping tutor Tabatha Odabe to Peach Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Year honors.
She spent three years as an assistant at Augusta College, on staff for a team that made the NCAA Division II Sweet 16 in 2016 and helped the program to 46 wins in her time there. After a three-year career as a professional player in Finland, she returned to the states and broke in college basketball as an Administrative Assistant on Wright State’s coaching staff.
A native of Cleveland, Ohio, she was a standout point guard for Xavier from 2007-11, appearing in 131 games and starting the last 115 of those in a row. She was a two-time All-Atlantic 10 performer, who helped lead the Musketeers to four A-10 Championships and NCAA Tournament appearances, including an Elite Eight run as a junior in 2009-10.