By Tommy Keeler Jr. - firstname.lastname@example.org
Mallory Skarupa helped out a camp when she was in high school at North Allegheny (Pa.) High School and after helping some younger kids with the game of basketball knew what she wanted to do.
"Ever since then I knew I wanted to get into teaching and maybe do some coaching on the side," Skarupa said in a phone interview from Pittsburgh on Sunday.
Skarupa is doing both at Central. Last week she was named the new girls basketball coach at Central, replacing Stephanie Cooper. Skarupa was the JV girls basketball coach last year, and was an assistant for the varsity team.
"I was really excited when I found out I got it," Skarupa said. "Stephanie and I are really close, and I wouldn't have applied if I hadn't gotten her blessing. I talked to her about it before I applied."
Cooper coached the team for six years and had helped turn the program around. Last year the team advanced to the Region B semifinals, where it lost to eventual state champion George Mason. The Falcons won in the Region B quarterfinals for their first regional win since 1997.
Central athletic director Kenny Rinker said Cooper did a great job with the program during her time there.
"She took the program -- and by no means is it in shambles," Rinker said. "She's done a lot of good things for the girls basketball program. Last year we started out 3-7 and she had some issues she had to deal with, but we ended up eight points shy of the state tournament, losing to the eventual state champion.
"On behalf of Central High School we'd like to thank her for the six good years she put into working with the student-athletes of Central High School."
Skarupa played basketball in high school and for two years at Division III Grove City College. Last year was her first year at Central, where she teaches English.
Rinker said Skarupa seemed like a perfect fit for the program.
"She fit the bill of what we're looking for," Rinker said. "She's very enthusiastic. She has a lot of energy. She's a great teacher, first of all. She wants the kids to do well, and do the right things in the classroom and on the court as teammates."
Skarupa also was the head coach of the girls tennis team this past season. The girls tennis team had a very successful season as they won a district title for the first time in over a decade. Central's Molly Barb also advanced to the Group A state semifinals, becoming the first girls player to achieve the feat in over a decade.
Skarupa said she feels that coaching the girls tennis team and getting that first experience as a head varsity coach will help her with the upcoming basketball season.
Another thing that will certainly help Skarupa is having helped coach all of the players on the team before. Central's JV team went 12-8 last season. Skarupa said there are some talented younger players in the program, and she believes some of the rising freshman will help contribute to the varsity team this season.
Central ended the year with only eight players on the team and a 15-12 record, after losing two players during the season.
They are losing two seniors -- Theresa Barela and Rebecca Sigler -- to graduation. Rising junior Brenna Cook has also transferred to Millbrook.
"We have some work ahead of us," Skarupa said. "Obviously, we need to build the numbers back up. I think once we get the numbers back up we'll be good to go."
Skarupa said size will obviously be a weakness, the tallest returning player is 5-foot-7, but they should have plenty of team speed.
The Falcons should have five returning players, including leading scorer and rising junior Katelyn Poston.
Skarupa said last season ended on a down note with the loss, and some off-court drama.
With a little over four minutes left in the Region B quarterfinals, Cooper took Poston out of the game and the two argued on the sidelines. Shortly afterwards, Cooper tried to put her back into the game. However, Poston walked back to the bench, and eventually headed to the locker room. Poston did not start in the regional semifinals two days later to George Mason, but did come off the bench and led the team in scoring.
"We need the support of the parents and community," Skarupa said. "I think that's important. We have a chance to be very successful. We have a lot of young talent."
Skarupa said she has not had a chance to talk with the players yet, because she's been out of town, but will do so as soon as she gets back in town. Even though the team hasn't been doing any organized off-season activities, Skarupa said she doesn't think that will hurt the team for the upcoming season.
Skarupa said she plans on talking to assistant coach Sarah DiNardo this week, and begin talking about the upcoming season. Skarupa said she doesn't plan on changing much of what Cooper did, and plans to still use the motion offense that Cooper used.
"I think the motion offense is a great way to learn how to play the game," Skarupa said. "There are so many different sets you can use out of it."
One thing Skarupa said she does plan on doing differently is to have JV and varsity players practice together. Skarupa said she's excited to begin and for the upcoming season.
"I want us to play as a team," Skarupa said. "We're not going to have a big team, but we're fast. We have lots of athletic girls coming back. We know in the Bull Run District George Mason will be our toughest competition. And [William] Monroe has some big girls.
"It will be a challenge."