Mary Burke, the four-time Rhode Island Women’s Basketball Coach of the Year (‘07, ‘08, ’13, ’14), will enter her 32nd season as head coach of the Bryant women’s basketball team in 2022-23.
In 2021-22, the Bulldogs entered the NEC postseason as a seventh seed and made it to the NEC Championship against Mount St. Marys. The Black and Gold defeated number two seeded St. Francis Brooklyn in the quarterfinals by a score of 65-63 on the road. Nicole Gallagher (19), Mariona Planes Fortuny (17), and Brooke Bjelko, with 14 points, all reached double figures. Bryant then went on the road to face number-one seeded Fairleigh Dickinson in the semi-finals, whom they defeated 44-38 and held the NEC Player of the Year to five points. Bjelko also became the sixth player in DI program history to reach 1,000 career points and received Second-Team All-NEC honors.
In 2020-21, during the Covid shortened season, Burke coached Brooke Bjelko to an All-NEC First-Team selection, where the senior led the conference in double-doubles (9), made field goals (128), points per game (15.9), rebounds (191), and rebounds per game (9.1). Bjelko also was the first player in program history to earn three consecutive NEC Player of the Week awards.
In 2019-20, Burke coached two all-conference selections in NEC All-Rookie honoree Nicole Gallagher and Second Team All-NEC Sydney Holloway. Coach Burke assembled one of the most competitive non-conference schedules to date as the Black and Gold trekked to two Big Ten opponents, Illinois and Minnesota, and grabbed wins over Brown and Albany.
In 2018-19, Burke enjoyed a historical season as she reached a personal milestone just before the end of the regular season. On March 9, 2019, Burke secured her 400th career win at LIU, 69-54, which was the first of two-straight victories for the Bulldogs to help the team finish fifth in the conference standings. Bryant finished the season with an 11-19 overall record led by Sydney Holloway. Coach Burke guided Holloway to her second First Team All-NEC honor.
In 2017-18, the Bulldogs qualified for the Northeast Conference postseason by posting an 8-10 mark against conference foes. Burke also coached sophomore stand-out Sydney Holloway to a First Team All-NEC honor after ranking among the top 20 nationally in double-doubles. Coach Burke also helped freshman Hannah Scanlan earn NEC All-Rookie laurels.
In 2016-17, Burke led the Bulldogs to their best-ever Northeast Conference finish, reaching the conference finals where they fell to No. 1 Robert Morris. The 18-14 Bulldogs went 11-7 against conference foes, earning the No. 4 seed in the league tournament. The Bulldogs hosted and defeated No. 5 Mount St. Mary's in the NEC Quarterfinals, before defeating No. 2 Sacred Heart in the NEC Semifinals en route to the program's first-ever NEC Championship appearance as the unlikely No. 4 seed. Senior Alex Klein earned First Team All-NEC, while Sydney Holloway was named to the NEC All-Rookie Team.
In the 2015-16 season, Burke helped the Bulldogs back to the NEC Tournament after posting an 18-13 overall record and 14-4 conference mark, including a 10-0 start in league play, becoming one of only seven teams to reach the 10-0 tally in Northeast Conference history (29 years). Burke has recorded 10+ conference wins in 14 seasons, including eight-straight years with double-digit league victories (2000-08). The No. 2 Bulldogs took down No. 7 LIU Brooklyn, 70-56, in the NEC Quarterfinals, before No. 3 Robert Morris upset the Bulldogs, 72-59, for the third-straight year in the league semifinals.
In 2014-15, Burke guided the Bulldogs to their best Division I season to date in which they earned a share of the Northeast Conference Regular Season Title. The first conference championship of her career, Burke led Bryant to a record-setting season which featured a tie for the most wins in program history (22), most Northeast Conference wins in a season (14), and the highest finish in the NEC standings (tied for first). The Black and Gold advanced to the NEC Tournament Semifinals for the second-straight season led by NEC Player of the Year Breanna Rucker and NEC Rookie of the Year Ivory Bailey.
In 2013-14, Burke and the Bulldogs captured the first Division I postseason win in Bryant basketball history and the first appearance in a national postseason tournament in program history. Bryant reached the NEC Semifinals for the first time in program history and earned a berth to the Women’s Basketball Invitational (WBI). The Bulldogs also saw two players tabbed as All-NEC honorees with Jenniqua Bailey and Naana Ankoma-Mensa earning second-team recognition.
In 2012-13, Burke helped guide the Bulldogs to a 12-18 overall record and their first-ever trip to the Northeast Conference Tournament. Bryant won eight of its final 13 games to clinch the eighth and final spot in the 2013 NEC Tournament, the program’s inaugural postseason appearance at the Division I level. Burke also reached an individual milestone, earning her 300th-career victory vs. LIU Brooklyn on Jan. 26, 2013.
In the 2008-09 season, the Bulldogs’ inaugural DI season, they posted the most wins of the four Division I schools in Rhode Island (PC, URI, and Brown). The Bulldogs earned wins over New Hampshire, Colgate, Central Connecticut (twice), Saint Francis, Wagner and Fairleigh Dickinson.
Before the transition to Division I, the Bulldogs were among the top teams in the Northeast-10 Conference. Under Burke’s tutelage, the Bulldogs qualified for the NCAA Tournament four times, including back-to-back appearances in 2004 and 2005, as well as their final appearance in the Division II Tournament in 2008.
In Bryant’s final year in Division II in 2007-08 -- Burke and her team ended the season 20-12 overall, posting a 12-10 mark in Bryant’s final season as a member of the Northeast-10 Conference.
The 2007-08 season saw the Bulldogs, who were picked to finish ninth in the preseason coaches’ poll, defeat three nationally ranked teams -- No. 21 Bentley, No. 15 Stonehill and No. 17 Franklin Pierce -- en route to a sixth-place conference finish and seventh-seed NCAA Regional Tournament ranking. It was Bryant’s seventh NCAA appearance and first 20-win season since 2003-04.
Bryant appeared in the national polls on five occasions in 2007-08, each time in the “Others Receiving Votes” category. The 2008 dance was Burke’s fourth as a head coach, while the 2007-08 effort marked just the second time she has eclipsed the 20-win clip.
Another highlight of Burke’s tenure at Bryant came in the 2003-04 season when the Bulldogs finished the year ranked in the USA Today Division II Coaches’ Poll Top-25 and advanced to the NCAA Regional Final, where they fell to Northeast-10 foe Merrimack College, finishing the season 22-9.
Burke’s rapid climb up the coaching ladder began in 1987 when she joined former Bryant head coach Ralph Tomasso’s staff as an assistant with the Bulldogs. She was promoted to head coach, August 1, 1991, becoming only the fourth women’s basketball head coach in Bryant history.
Burke’s success as the Bulldogs’ leader comes as no surprise, considering the lofty heights she reached as a player at Providence College. A three-time Big East All-Conference selection, Burke was named a District I All-American as a senior. In her four years as a Friar, Burke helped lead her team to an 80-36 record. During that time, she led the 1985-86 Providence squad to the Big East Championship Game and a bid in the NCAA tournament and also spearheaded the Friars’ run in the 1986-87 NIT.
Burke graduated as the Friars’ fourth-leading women’s scorer (1,672 points) and seventh-leading rebounder (740) of all time. Her 43-point outburst against Miami of Ohio in her final season at Providence set a new school record, etching her name in the record books yet again.
Before even attending Providence, Burke had already made a name for herself in Rhode Island. Earning All-State recognition five times at Toll Gate High School - three times in basketball and twice in volleyball - Burke has been honored on two occasions by Words Unlimited, Rhode Island’s professional organization of sports publicists and journalists.
Burke was named Rhode Island’s Schoolgirl Athlete of the Year in 1983 and accepted the organization’s highest honor in 1987 when she was named Rhode Island’s Female Athlete of the Year. She was also the recipient of the ECAC Award of Valor in 1987.
Burke was inducted into the New England Basketball Hall of Fame in 2004 and enshrined in the Providence College Athletics Hall of Fame in 2007.