By Brad Fauber - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- C.K. Calhoun is having a tough time containing her excitement, and it's hard to blame her for the wide grin that creeps across her face whenever she is asked about her new job.
Shenandoah University announced Monday that Calhoun will be taking over as head coach of the women's basketball program, and the opportunity has Calhoun brimming with eager anticipation.
"I have been smiling from ear to ear," Calhoun said. "I can't tell you how pumped I am. It's really exciting to be a part of the SU family, and the biggest thing is being able to coach in my home state and have my first head coaching job in my home state."
Calhoun, an Alexandria native, comes to SU after serving the last two years as top assistant under coach Carroll LaHaye at fellow Old Dominion Athletic Conference school Randolph-Macon College. She also spent time as an assistant at Frostburg State and Marymount University, her alma mater, prior to her time at R-MC.
Calhoun credits her time spent under LaHaye and Marymount coach Bill Finney for preparing her for her upcoming opportunity with the Hornets.
"I have worked with two coaches who have 500 wins," Calhoun said. "I've had two really impactful mentors. I took a lot of passion from them -- they gave me that, and the enthusiasm to come in and try it out on my own now."
In addition to being close to home, Calhoun said she was drawn to Shenandoah by her experience with the various people involved in the interview process, which included a panel of current Hornets players Sara D'Amico, Nicole Gibertson, Kirsten Olson and Holly Chittenden.
"I've never met a more positive group of people that all shine in different ways," Calhoun said. "It was just very welcoming -- just the positive spirit and atmosphere that Shenandoah had."
Shenandoah is entering its first season as a member of the ODAC, and Calhoun said she thinks that her prior experience in the conference at R-MC will help ease any nerves the Hornets feel during the transition.
The process won't be an easy one as SU returns just six players from last season's roster, but Calhoun expects the Hornets to hold their own in what she calls a very competitive conference.
Shenandoah's success on the court will rely heavily on the play of its returnees. Luckily for the Hornets, they return three of their top five scorers from last season in Gilbertson, Chittenden and D'Amico.
"We have a small returning group, but I'm excited about the returners stepping up," Calhoun said. "I have high expectations, but at the same time, I want to get better every day. If we can get better every week and improve, that's my expectation."
Calhoun's coaching style has been heavily influenced by her time spent playing under Finney during her years at Marymount during the mid-2000s, a period that saw the Saints win two conference titles and make a pair of NCAA tournament appearances.
Calhoun said she is a defensive coach at heart, which stems from her playing days with the Saints, and it will be a consistent goal of Shenandoah's to hold its opponents under their scoring average during the upcoming season.
The Hornets will have some freedom on the offensive end as Calhoun plans to implement an up-tempo style to push the ball up the floor, but Calhoun said even the offensive philosophy is centered around her emphasis on defensive pressure.
"What I have learned is that some players will play better defense if you give them a little freedom on the offensive end," Calhoun said. "So I give them a little bit."
The lessons that Calhoun has taken from her mentors extend beyond the X's and O's of the game. Calhoun said Finney was a firm enforcer of a "do your best" philosophy inspired by Hall of Fame college basketball coach John Wooden. Calhoun plans to use that same approach with her new team.
"I want my players to do their best in the classroom and on the court, and in the community," Calhoun said. "A lifetime of giving or doing your best, that's pure success."
Calhoun said it is important for the Hornets to gel early in preparation for the ODAC schedule and that a main goal for the upcoming season is for SU to be playing its best basketball in February and March.
She hopes that the Hornets' style of play, plus a renewed sense of commitment to the women's basketball program, will make students and fans just as excited as she is to be a part of Shenandoah's women's hoops.
"I'm really pumped to make this the hardest place to play in the ODAC," Calhoun said. "I want to pack this gym. Some people say [Shingleton Gymnasium] is a small facility, but it's one of those things where if you can pack it and you can make it one of the hardest places to play, no one will want to play you."