By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
With the official start of practice for the girls basketball season rapidly approaching, Edgewood athletic director Steve Kray was still trying fill the Warriors’ coaching vacancy. Not willing to risk the season starting with no coach, Kray came up with the a solution to his problem.
He had a pretty good idea who the right person for the job was, at least as far as the 2013-14 season is concerned,
“We started the whole process in June,” Kray said. “We had a limited applicant pool. We interviewed multiple people and made a couple of recommendations to the board. They didn’t like who we recommended. At the September meeting, they were not totally comfortable with that person. We didn’t have a coach.
“I had two conversations. One was here, at home (with his wife, Nicole), then I went to the superintendent and said I was willing to take the position if he was willing to let me have it. It was two weeks before the season and the girls hadn’t been in the gym and hadn’t touched a basketball since summer.”
Having been a coach for most of his career, Kray understands exactly what is important when these matters come up.
“Ultimately, it’s about the kids,” Kray said. “We were getting close to the season. There were a lot of questions coming from the girls. They wanted to be in the gym. They were getting anxious to get things going. I thought we could have a successful year. Beth Simpson agreed to stay on as the JV coach.
“I’m glad to be back coaching. You don’t realize how much you miss it until you’re away from it. It’s been a fun week or so of practice.”
The 1997 Edgewood graduate had been the coach for three sports before taking over the AD’s position when Dave Melaragno retired. Though he spent the bulk of his time leading boys, he does have some experience with a girls team.
“I coached five years of girls tennis when I first moved home from college,” Kray said. “That’s when I was doing three sports — there was girls tennis, middle school basketball and baseball. It’s funny you called tonight. My wife (Nicole) and I were just talking about that. The fun part of it is the girls play very hard and they’re very willing to learn.
“In my position, I love what I do being in charge of the athletic program and seeing all the kids doing all the sports, but I do miss being on the sideline.”
Early in the process, Kray and his players have been developing a relationship.
“It is about the girls,” Kray said. “We have three solid seniors who will share in the captain responsibilities. Carrie Pascarella, Cortney Humphrey and Gia Saturday have really taken the lead over these first five days. They’re making sure practice runs smoothly and we’re talking every day about the team’s needs whether it be team shoes or offensive concepts.
“It’s been fun. I’ve enjoyed it. I’m looking for some good things from these kids.”
What helped Kray decide to take over the team was that he has a pretty good working knowledge of the girls in the program and what they are capable of.
“That’s another thing that played in,” he said. “I had the chance to watch them last year. I know their strengths and weaknesses. I watched 90 percent of their games. I know how teams approached them. We’ll focus on those weaknesses to start the year.”
Most coaches, even the ones in their first year in a program, have been in the job since the beginning of summer, at the latest. Taking over right as the season was about to begin could have put Kray and the Warriors in a precarious position.
He doesn’t exactly see it that way.
“I wouldn’t say we’re behind the 8 ball,” he said. “Most of the girls played a fall sport. They were out for volleyball, cross country, soccer and tennis. They were doing something, so I don’t know if many of them would have made open gyms.
“Most didn’t pick up a basketball after the summer, I’d imagine, until Oct. 22. That’s about two months behind the rest of the county.”
Kray has hit the ground running.
“The last five days, I give the girls the most credit,” he said. “From the time they come in at 2:50 until they’re out at 5, they go at it. If they keep up with that particular approach, they’ll catch up in no time.
“Most of them did contribute in the summer, so that lull was just that period during September and October when other teams were having open gyms. It helps they were in other sports, at least they’re coming in in shape.”
Kray isn’t looking past the immediate future when it comes to his return to coaching.
“I’m taking the position for a year because of how late we are,” he said. “We’ll re-evaluate at midseason. I’ll have the job for a year and we’ll look at the potential vacancies that open up and try find someone to build the program. We want someone who will stay here and be part of the group.
“I don’t want to say this is a one-and-done, but it was only fair to the seniors to not let them sit back and wait. We’ll open it back up and entertain interested candidates.”
Though he might spend just this season at the helm, Kray is approaching the job as if he were the one building for the future.
“I’m doing things right now I would have wanted the head coach to do,” he said. “I would want any coach we hired to do these things. I want to start a youth basketball program. Whoever got the job, that was one of the things I was going to move forward with.
“We need to have the young kids involved. The things I’m instilling are not just for basketball. They’re things we see in volleyball, cross country and softball. They’re things consistent with Edgewood.”
So far, Kray is having a great deal of fun.
“I go home every night excited,” he said. “I’ve had fun. We’ve got a long way to go, but they’ve made this fun for me. It’s rekindled that drive I had before the last two years (after stepping away from the baseball job).”
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.