George Mason Vice President/Director of Athletics Brad Edwards has named Vanessa Blair-Lewis as the ninth head coach in the history of the Patriot women’s basketball program.
Blair-Lewis, who led Bethune-Cookman to its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance in 2019, arrives in Fairfax following a 13-year stint as the head women’s basketball coach of the Wildcats.
“Vanessa Blair-Lewis has achieved an elite level of success throughout her impressive career,” said Edwards. “She will bring a championship mentality to our women’s basketball program. In addition to her athletic prowess as a coach and player, Vanessa will place a strong commitment on student-athlete well-being, academics and community involvement while building an inclusive culture. We are excited to have Vanessa lead Mason women’s basketball to the next level in athletic performance in the Atlantic 10.”
The four-time MEAC Coach of the Year, Blair-Lewis led Bethune-Cookman to a 196-168 (.538) overall record and six winning seasons, rebuilding a program that had only had two winning seasons in the 19 seasons prior to her arrival.
“My family and I are very excited about the opportunity to come back home to where I began my playing and coaching career,” said Blair-Lewis. “I am honored to represent this diverse university and compete in the basketball-centric Atlantic 10 Conference against some of the brightest coaches in the country. I’m grateful to President Gregory Washington, Athletic Director Brad Edwards, Dr. Debi Corbatto and the search committee for believing in my abilities to lead these young women.”
Over the previous five seasons (2015 to 2020), she has guided Bethune-Cookman to a 107-48 (.690) overall and 68-12 (.850) MEAC record. The Wildcats have posted four 21+ win seasons, four MEAC Regular Season Championships, one MEAC Tournament Championship, and five postseason berths.
“We are committed to building a women’s basketball program that provides opportunities for talented young athletes to compete at the highest levels and develop into leaders on and off the court,” George Mason University President Gregory Washington said. “Vanessa Blair-Lewis is an exceptional program builder and educator with a proven track record. We are excited to welcome her to Mason and back home to the Washington, D.C. region.”
In 2019-20, the Wildcats finished 23-6 overall and 15-1 in MEAC play for its fourth regular season championship in the last five years. The team earned a bid to the WNIT before the remainder of the season was canceled due to COVID-19. Bethune Cookman’s scoring offense finished first in the MEAC in 2019-20.
In 2018-19, she led Bethune-Cookman to the MEAC Tournament Championship and its first NCAA Tournament berth in program history. The Wildcats defeated Norfolk State to clinch the program’s first tournament championship since 1984 and earned a No. 16 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Along with Angel Golden being named Tournament Outstanding Performer, Blair-Lewis garnered Tournament Outstanding Coach honors. The next week, Bethune-Cookman went up against defending National Champion Notre Dame in its NCAA Tournament debut.
The 2017-18 campaign saw Blair-Lewis lead the Lady Wildcats to a third regular season championship, a program record for overall victories (24) and MEAC wins (15), a first-ever appearance in the College Insider Mid-Major Top 25 and a third appearance in the WNIT.
Blair-Lewis became the first women’s head coach in MEAC history to win the award three consecutive years and four times overall.
The 2016-17 campaign saw Blair-Lewis lead the Wildcats to a conference tournament championship berth for the first time in 25 years and a second straight postseason appearance in the WNIT. Bethune-Cookman registered among the best programs in the nation statistically, finishing second behind Baylor in field goal percentage defense and eighth nationally in total defense.
One of her finest recruiting classes included Kailyn Williams, Kendra Cooper, the program’s all-time three-point leader, Taylor Houston and Alea Godfrey. That group excelled in 2015-16 as the Wildcats made a late season charge that produced a regular season co-championship and the school’s first Division I postseason appearance in the WNIT.
Blair-Lewis had a breakout year at Bethune-Cookman in 2009-10, her second season, and was named MEAC Coach of the Year after leading the Wildcats to a 15-14 mark. It represented both the Wildcats’ first winning campaign in eight seasons and highest win total since 1998.
A 22-year coaching veteran, Blair-Lewis previously served as the head women’s basketball coach of her alma mater, Mount St. Mary’s.
From 1998 to 2007, she led Mount St. Mary’s to 120 overall wins and a 97-67 (.591) NEC record, two 20+ win seasons, and two NEC Regular Season Championships.
She guided The Mount to a 21-7 record and NEC regular season championship in her inaugural season in 1998-99. The subsequent Coach of the Year honor made her the first and still the only person named both Player of the Year and Coach of the Year.
As a Division I Head Coach, she has recruited and coached 37 all-conference team selections, as well as three Players of the Year, one Rookie of the Year, and six Defensive Players of the Year.
As a player, she set the Mount’s single-game, season and career records in blocked shots. She ranks seventh all-time in scoring (1,488), third in rebounds (849) and rebounds per game (8.9), second in free throws attempted in a season (588) and holds the records for blocked shots (242). She currently is the only Mountaineer to hold triple digit career marks in five different categories.
A two-time NEC Player of the Year, she was inducted into the Mount St. Mary’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2002, NEC Hall of Fame in 2013 and her playing jersey was retired in 2019.
After college, Blair-Lewis played two years of professional basketball in Sweden. Blair-Lewis played on the Pro Basketball Club, a first division team based in the city of Orebro, before a knee injury cut her playing career short. She returned home to the United States, where she assisted her father at Largo (Md.) High School and coached at the AAU youth level. Blair-Lewis returned to her alma mater as an assistant in 1996.
She and Eric Lewis, a veteran NBA official who worked Game Four of the 2019 NBA Finals, married in the summer of 2013. The couple has two children, Blair and Bryce.