Karen McCaffrey could feel it when she unlocked the doors to the gym at Penns Valley High School on Friday, and she anticipates an even stronger feeling Wednesday night.
“When those doors were opened and I walked in and saw those girls the other day,” the Lady Rams’ new girls’ basketball coach said, “it was just that kind of feeling of kind of being back home again. It felt wonderful. I really, really have missed it.”
McCaffrey was approved as the new coach for the Lady Rams last week, returning to the post after a four-year absence. Before leaving she coached for 16 seasons and piled up better than 250 wins, becoming the program’s all-time wins leader.
Last Friday she met with her future team for the first time, laying the groundwork for next winter, and Wednesday will be her first open gym session — the first time she will see some of the girls dribble and shoot.
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“It’s late in the year and we had to get started,” said McCaffrey, who spent the last season with the boys’ team keeping the scorebook for games.
McCaffrey, who teaches sixth grade at Penns Valley Intermediate School, took a break four years ago so she could watch her daughter, Korey, play in college ball at Susquehanna.
“I don’t know that I never wanted to leave,” McCaffrey said. “It wasn’t the fact that I wanted to resign to begin with, but I knew I needed to go watch Korey.”
The program had been under the guidance of Andrea Borland since then. Borland resigned from the job soon after this past season ended. The Lady Rams finished with a 14-8 record, losing to Blairsville in the District 6 Class AA quarterfinals.
The new coach thought Borland would be leading the program for a while and this opportunity would not come around again.
“She had a very successful year this year and you could see her teams improving,” McCaffrey said. “I was surprised, but I understand how it is when you have a family.”
The Lady Rams lost only three seniors from that team.
The hiring is the first for new athletic director Nate Althouse, who assumed the post earlier this month. Althouse, who coached the boys’ team for a time concurrent with McCaffrey a decade ago, was unsure how many applications were received for the position but said four people were interviewed. There also were a number of lengthy discussions about the program and the direction various candidates would take it before settling on McCaffrey.
“We were lucky to have several excellent candidates,” Althouse said. “I coached with Karen back in the day. There’s a lot — if you look at her resume and what she’s done at Penns Valley — there are a lot of positives. ... She’s been to where we believe this team can go, she’s an educator and that comes through in her coaching, and even though she’s been coaching for 16 years, she’s still a student of the game.”
McCaffrey is glad to have the chance to work with Althouse again as well as others in the district’s administration.
“I am very excited to work with Coach Althouse as the athletic director,” McCaffrey said. “His enthusiasm is going to carry over to all of our sports programs.”
While it hurt a little to leave the program, she also realized it gave her a little perspective as it prepares her and her team for next winter.
“I’m glad I had the break,” McCaffrey said. “I miss more of the things you kind of take for granted sometimes when you’re the coach. It’s the little things that are the daily grind that you miss the most.”