Less than a month after Penn State began its national search for a new women’s basketball coach, the Lady Lions have found their woman.
Former Marquette coach Carolyn Kieger was named Wednesday afternoon as the head coach of the women’s basketball program, pending contract approval Thursday by the Committee on Compensation of the Penn State Board of Trustees, an exercise that is usually just a formality. Kieger — a semifinalist for the 2019 Naismith Women’s Coach of the Year Award — is coming off three straight NCAA Tournament appearances after inheriting a program that hadn’t made back-to-back tournaments since 1999-2000.
“I’m excited to build upon the Penn State women’s basketball legacy,” Kieger said in a news release. “Penn State has a rich tradition and I look forward to doing my part to enhance that tradition and bring the program back to national prominence. My staff and I will work relentlessly to help our student-athletes become the best people, students and players they can be and through that process we will win at the highest level.”
Kieger, a 2006 Marquette grad, was an assistant at Miami (Fla.) from 2007-13 until taking over at her alma mater in 2014. Before her arrival, Marquette was a winning program that always seemed to be on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament. From 2005 to 2014, Marquette suffered just one losing season and reached the postseason all but one year. However, it also made the NCAA Tournament on just two occasions.
Kieger suffered losing seasons her first two years at the helm — losing three starters in her inaugural season was no easy obstacle — but the last three years reached near-historic proportions of success for Marquette’s all-time assists leader. Kieger’s program went 25-7 in 2016-17, 24-10 the next year and 26-6 in the most recent season. Marquette also won the last two Big East championships.
“We are thrilled to have Carolyn Kieger joining the Penn State family as the leader of our women’s basketball program,” Athletic Director Sandy Barbour said in a written statement. “Carolyn has rapidly established herself as one of the nation’s premier head coaches. ... During her tenure as the head coach at Marquette and an assistant at Miami (Fla.), Carolyn has demonstrated the ability to recruit and develop outstanding young women on and off the court, including the last two Big East Player of the Year recipients.”
Barbour alluded to Allazia Blockton and Natisha Hiedeman, who were Marquette’s first-ever Big East Players of the Year. Overall, Kieger coached nine all-conference selection in just the last three years.
She’ll have a rebuilding job ahead of her at Penn State, after Coquese Washington left her post following 12 seasons with limited success toward the end.
Washington boasted five straight postseason berths in the middle of her tenure. But in 2014-15, the Lady Lions finished 6-24 — the program’s fewest number of wins since playing an eight-game schedule in 1974 — and they had just one winning season in the last four years.
Kieger intimated she was prepared for the challenge ahead.
“As a competitor, you want to challenge yourself to become your very best and to compete at the highest level and for a chance to win national championships every season,” Kieger said in the news release. “I’m thrilled for the next challenge of my career to compete for national championships as a part of the Penn State family, and I am incredibly grateful to President (Eric) Barron and Sandy Barbour for this opportunity.”
Kieger, a four-year starter and three-time captain at Marquette, will address the media at noon April 12 inside the Bryce Jordan Center. According to the athletic department, “a public welcome celebration” will take place that same day with details to be announced in the coming days.