Peter Cinella is excited to continue his construction project at Fairleigh Dickinson University

"I'm happy that they've given a commitment to try and get our team going the right way," said Cinella, who was awarded a contract extension by the Division I school.

The Lee native had his contract extended by the school earlier this month. Terms of the contract and length were not disclosed.

Cinella just finished up his ninth season as the Fairleigh Dickinson women's basketball coach. The Knights were 11-21 and 8-10 in the Northeast Conference. Cinella's team was sixth in the NEC standings and earned a spot in the conference post-season tournament. It was the highest finish for an FDU team since Cinella's second year in 2008-09, when the Knights also finished sixth in the league.

"I am excited to have Coach Cinella continue his leadership of our women's basketball program," FDU athletic director David Langford said in a statement. "I look forward to seeing the team build off two consecutive playoff appearances."

Cinella's team lost to eventual champion Robert Morris in the first round of the NEC Tournament last year. FDU had a pretty rugged non-conference schedule, which included games at the University of North Carolina, Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference women's basketball power Iona and West Virginia of the Big 12.

"When I first got here, we did not compete with the top three or four teams in our league," Cinella said in a phone interview. "That was Sacred Heart, Robert Morris and St. Francis (Pa.). Those teams really dominated the league, and we rarely, if ever, could beat those teams.


"We would come in fifth or sixth place in the league because we did pretty well against the bottom teams in the league."

During the regular season, FDU swept Robert Morris, while the Knights were swept by Sacred Heart. They split with St. Francis (Pa.).

Cinella's career record at Fairleigh Dickinson is 95-173, while his overall record between FDU and American International College is 386-305.

In 14 seasons at AIC, Cinella guided the Yellowjackets to nine NCAA Division II tournament appearances. The high-water mark came in 2006, when AIC reached the NCAA championship game. Cinella's team beat St. Cloud State 70-58 in a national semifinal, but lost 58-52 to Grand Valley State in the championship game. It took him two years to get to the NCAA tourney at AIC.

"I thought it would be quicker" to get to the tournament, Cinella said of his time at FDU. "We've had some bad breaks along the way. A couple of times, we were ready to make a good run, and our best player would get hurt and miss the season.

"We changed our recruiting approach, trying to figure out how to get the best players here."

Peter Cinella
Peter Cinella (Larry Levanti — Photo Contributed)

The coach said he switched his recruiting strategy from a regional approach that was successful at AIC. Now, he is traveling around the country. Kelsey Cruz, for example, is from Chester, Va.

Cinella said the key now is to build a deeper roster and to get more consistent when they play against the top teams in the conference.

The Knights had three players earn conference honors last year. Erika Livermore was named to the All-NEC first team, Cruz was named to the second team, while freshman Madelynn Comly was named to the All-Rookie team..

Fairleigh Dickinson lost only two seniors to graduation, and are bringing in what he said is a good recruiting class. The Knights are also lightening up the schedule. This year's "buy" game is a road trip to the University of New Mexico. Those are games where teams get nice paychecks and usually come home with a loss. A step up, to be sure, but that's not like playing North Carolina or UConn.

"At one point, we were just looking to be like one of the better teams at the bottom" of the conference standings, Cinella said. "Now that we're able to show that we're able to beat the top teams in our league, I now I think we can make a run and be one of the top teams in our league."

Contact Howard Herman at 413-496-6253.