Kraft promoted to head coach of Hornets women’s hoops

By Brad Fauber

WINCHESTER — Melissa Kraft has bounced around a good bit over the last seven years, but she has likely just added a little stability to her women’s college basketball coaching career.

Kraft, who served as the top assistant under former Shenandoah University head women’s basketball coach C.K. Calhoun this past season, has been promoted to the Hornets’ vacant head coaching position, the school announced Monday. The announcement comes two weeks after Calhoun, who coached at SU for two seasons, was hired as an assistant coach at Division I Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania.

“It’s been a long process of being a Division III assistant. I’ve been an assistant for seven years, so this is a goal I’ve been working towards even since I was a player. I’m so thrilled to accomplish this goal in the short term,” Kraft said on Monday.

Kraft’s promotion came rather quickly following Calhoun’s resignation, and Shenandoah University Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Doug Zipp said there was no need to conduct a national search for a new head coach with such a qualified candidate already on campus.

Kraft is the third assistant coach to be promoted to a head coaching position at Shenandoah University in the last 22 years.

“What really stood out is that I noticed Melissa’s ready. She’s ready to be a head coach and this is the right time, right place, right fit,” Zipp said. “… I look for three things. I look for understanding of Division III, the academics and the athletics. I look for winning in your career — having the Gatorade dumped over your head — as a player and as a coach. And I then I look for fit. And she fits all three of those pieces. If we would’ve done a search she would’ve risen to the top immediately. We had an excellent person right here and I’m a firm believer in promotion if it’s deserved.”

Kraft, a Staten Island, New York, native, began her coaching career shortly after graduating from Drew University (New Jersey) in 2007. She served as a volunteer assistant at her alma mater for the 2007-08 season before spending the following year at Plattsburgh (New York) State.

From 2009-11, Kraft served as an assistant coach at Vassar College in New York before spending two more years at the University of Rochester, where she finished up her Master of Science degree in Higher Education.

Both Vassar and Rochester made an NCAA Division III tournament appearance during Kraft’s time at each school.

“I’m really looking forward to going through this and finally standing up on the sideline and seeing what I’m made of,” Kraft said.

During her two years at Vassar, Kraft said she began forming a friendship with Calhoun, who was an assistant with Randolph-Macon College at the time. Kraft said it was an easy decision to join Calhoun at Shenandoah when the assistant coach position opened up last summer.

“It was a no-brainer to take a chance and come down here and make something happen,” Kraft said. “This year was fantastic and it gives me more incentive to stay and continue to spread that foundation that C.K. had built for two years.”

The Hornets were 10-17 overall this past season and finished seventh in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference regular-season standings with a conference record of 6-10. Shenandoah advanced to the quarterfinals of the ODAC tournament in Salem, where the Hornets fell to top-seeded Eastern Mennonite, 53-52.

Kraft said that her experience in the conference tournament alone provided plenty of educational opportunities.

“There’s so many strong coaches on the women’s side in the ODAC — just such history there with these women that you can learn so much from just being in the same gym as them,” Kraft said.

Shenandoah will return 10 players from last season’s squad, including two past all-conference honorees in rising senior Holly Chittenden and rising junior Imani Heggins. The Hornets will also welcome in eight incoming freshman next season.

Kraft said her familiarity with SU’s women’s basketball program should help ease the transition process.

“As far as I’m concerned I have an absolute head start here, hitting the ground completely running today. That helps everybody involved in the program,” Kraft said.

“It’s one of those things that I’m excited to kind of spread my wings a little bit as the head coach and show the girls that there is a different side of me, because it’s always easy and fun being the assistant coach, the good cop. But I’m excited to step into that role,” she added.

Kraft said that the main goal for the Hornets will be to maintain a stable presence in the top half of the ODAC, while continuing to push for consistent regular-season finishes in the top five of the conference. Kraft also wants the Hornets to strive for loftier goals.

“You can’t help but think forward with the ODAC and continue to break barriers for Shenandoah athletics,” Kraft said. “… I think winning the conference championship is the be all, end all here, but obviously there are things after that. Getting to the NCAA tournament, I’ve been there a few times as a coach. I think that’s something that I’m really going to press on with our girls, thinking long-term goals.

“Then most importantly is continuing to do well in the classroom. That’s something I firmly believe in. … We want girls to be able to go to graduate school and continue and do whatever they want to do at a high level. Winning always makes it fun, but there is a bigger picture here for everybody.”

Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or bfauber@nvdaily.com. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD