BLOG: Washington Embraces Coaching Against Alma Mater
Dec. 5, 2013
By Tyler Feldman, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Despite the 77-67 home loss to No. 4/5 Notre Dame last night as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, the game itself held a deeper meaning for Penn State head coach Coquese Washington.
"Leading into this game I was really emotional about it," said Washington. "For me personally, I just decided that I was going to embrace and enjoy the moment."
Not only did Washington play for Notre Dame and head coach Muffet McGraw, but eventually she returned to South Bend to join McGraw's coaching staff. In 2007, however, Washington left the Fighting Irish and accepted the position as the head coach of the Lady Lions.
Thus, for the first time in her career, Washington was faced with the challenging task of coaching against not only the university that means so much to her, but also her former coach and mentor.
The mindset that Washington provided for herself was almost identical to the memo she gave her team prior to battle. The only difference, Washington made this game less about her and more about engaging yet another talented top-ranked challenger.
"One of the things I always tell them is to embrace and enjoy these moments," said Washington. "Embrace these moments when you're playing a highly ranked opponent."
The matchup against Notre Dame was the second home contest against a top-5 team this season. Even though the Lady Lions fell short, as they did against No. 1 UConn earlier this season, Washington alluded to the fact that there are several strong pieces on her team; it is just a matter of creating an identity, continuing to mesh as a team and improving upon the fundamentals.
For one, Talia East showed substantial fight underneath the basket, grabbing eight rebounds and utilizing her arsenal of post moves to score 12 points.
And, even with Maggie Lucas being held in check by Notre Dame's stifling defense--just 7 points and 5 fouls--moving forward it is encouraging to know that the Lady Lions can still score without their biggest offensive threat on the court.
"I definitely think one of our strengths this year is that we have so many weapons," said senior guard Dara Taylor. "When teams really key in on [Maggie] and make it difficult for her to score, the rest of us are able to step up and be more aggressive."
The fight that East and her teammates showed last night stems from a word that resonates from their head coach: Passion.
Since arriving at Penn State, Washington has certainly instilled her own passion for the game of basketball into her players.
"I'm passionate about my Notre Dame family. I'm passionate about my Penn State family. I'm passionate about the game of basketball," said Washington. "And to have all three of them at one time, there is no way for me to walk away from this game and not feel good about the blessing I just had."
Since Washington's arrival in Happy Valley, she has displayed the unique ability to couple her courtside coaching knowledge with the capability of acquiring gifted recruits. Such an impact has not gone unnoticed by her former coach and mentor.
"She's the best young coach in the country," said McGraw. "She can take her institutional hat off, which a lot of people can't do, and really think about what's good for women's basketball and what we need to do to grow the game. When a couple people retire, I think she's going to be the one that everyone looks to to lead this game into the future."
For Washington it is humbling to hear those words from an individual who has had such a significant impact on her life. Washington's time playing for, and coaching alongside, McGraw has helped her develop the necessary mindset to be an effective coach and build a desirable collegiate program.
Coaching against her former school is not an easy task and for most, it is an uncommon occurrence. Washington understands that fact, which is why she decided to enjoy the rarity rather than get lost in the X's and O's.
"I just had a tremendous experience that I don't know if I'll ever have again in my life," said Washington. "I enjoyed it. I enjoyed that crowd. I enjoyed the competition. I enjoyed everything about it. There are some lessons that our team will learn and use to get better. That's what I decided to do and I enjoyed it."
Washington and her Lady Lions (5-2) will look to apply those lessons to the hardwood when they travel to Washington, D.C., on Sunday, Dec. 8 to take on the Georgetown Hoyas (5-2). Tip-off is set for 2 p.m.