NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Santa Clara named former assistant JR Payne as its new women's basketball coach Sunday.
Payne returns to Santa Clara after leading Southern Utah for five seasons. The Thunderbirds won a record 23 games this season while advancing to the Women's National Invitation Tournament -- the first postseason berth in school history.
Payne, a former all-West Coast Conference guard for St. Mary's, replaces Jennifer Mountain, who went 56-127 in six years at Santa Clara.
Payne, 36, was a Broncos assistant in the 2008-09 season.
"We were drawn to JR during our national search for so many reasons," athletic director Dan Coonan said in a statement. "She has impressive Division I head coaching experience -- completely turning around the Southern Utah program in her time there. Prior to her time at Southern Utah, she made quite an impression on our staff in her brief stay here as an assistant coach."
The Canadian also was an assistant coach at Boise State and Gonzaga after graduating from St. Mary's in 1999.
"She has a wealth of West Coast Conference knowledge as well," Coonan added. "We know her to be a person of great character and integrity who will fit in here famously. What I love most is her perennially cheerful and optimistic disposition -- it is infectious."
Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves described Payne as one of the West Coast's most promising young coaches.
"She's a great teacher of the game and an exceptional recruiter," he said in a statement. "Her success at building programs can only be matched by her success at building young women."
Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865 and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/elliottalmond.