Each day, Tom McConnell feels a little more comfortable.
IUP’s first-year women’s basketball coach has brought his family to Indiana and moved into a new house, and the two of his six children that live at home are quickly getting acclimated to their new school.
It has been only 3 1/2 months, though, since McConnell was hired at IUP, and something else always comes along that helps with the settling-in process.
“There are typical first-year things and there are always a lot of things to do and everything,” he said earlier this week in his office at the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex. “People ask me if I’m settled in, and I say, ‘Yeah.’ They ask, What made me feel most settled in? Was it the first meeting with the team? No. The first workout with the team? No. When I moved into my house? No.
“One of my first weeks here I went over to Hoss’s and I was having lunch with a friend. The waitress comes over and says, ‘Yinz want a refill with that?’ I thought, I’m back! I got my first ‘yinz!’ I’m good to go now! I feel at home!”
That bit of western Pennsylvania slang was a welcome sound for a Pittsburgh guy whose career has taken him to various colleges around the country.
McConnell will feel most comfortable in a couple weeks, on Oct. 15, when NCAA basketball programs are allowed to put a full team on the court for the first practice.
So far, McConnell and his assistants, Rebecca Tillett and Ryenn Micaletti, have been getting to know the players through meetings and preseason conditioning and drills, but NCAA rules prohibit them all from being on the court at the same time.
“They’ve been doing well,” McConnell said. “We’ve been at it a month now. As a staff, we’re enjoying getting to know the players and them getting to know us, so it’s been a lot of fun. We’re allowed two hours of basketball skills development and six hours of strength and conditioning (per week). I’ve been impressed. They’re a good group, they work hard, and there’s good morale on the team. So we’ve really enjoyed the process of getting to know them.”
McConnell was hired in June to replace Jeff Dow, who was informed April 15 that his contract was not being renewed. IUP has not commented on the reason for letting Dow go, but it apparently stemmed from allegations from some players that he treated them harshly.
“We don’t even go there,” McConnell said. “I just want to coach them up. I just want to continue to get better every day. I know they’re responding. They’re hard workers and good kids, and as a coach you can’t ask anything more than that.”
IUP returns 10 of the top 11 players from a team that finished 23-9 last season. In addition, Leslie Stapleton, a junior from Indiana who broke her ankle after only two games last season, is healthy and ready to play.
There are only two new additions: Mackenzie Livingston, a freshman guard from Blairsville, and Lexi Carpenter, a sophomore transfer from Dayton. McConnell said Carpenter likely will redshirt.
The lone player lost from last year is Sarah Pastorek, who graduated as one of the top players in school history.
“The only one gone from last year is Sarah, and she’ll be missed,” McConnell said. “But we have a really good nucleus there and a very competitive group. They want to win, they want to do well and work hard, and there’s good depth there. We’re not a team that’s just going to rely on one or two people to score. We can go deep into the lineup.”
McConnell is a 23-year veteran of the coaching ranks. He spent seven seasons as the head men’s coach at St. Francis (1992-99), where he compiled an 85-105 record, and spent the rest of his career as a men’s or women’s assistant at Old Dominion, Colorado, Wake Forest, Marquette, Dayton and Pitt.
He also coached the Bishop Guilfoyle High School boys’ team for two seasons (2004-06) and served as the Director of Youth and Campus Ministries for the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese (1999-2004).
Now McConnell is busy getting his new team ready for the season and getting comfortable in his new town.
“I’ve enjoyed it,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed working with the team. I’ve enjoyed being a part of IUP. It’s been great for me and my family to be back home. We enjoy getting to know people, and we’re trying to get out and about in the community, and everybody has been great and really welcoming. It’s everything I hoped it would be.”
IUP opens the season at home against Bluefield State on Sunday, Nov. 10.