Christine A. Rowett
Sitting in her small, somewhat cramped office in the
Athletic Center, Nancy Blank interrupts an interview to take a
call from her son, Jared, a student at Gettysburg College in
Pennsylvania. The coach's son, who played on Gettysburg's junior
varsity basketball team this year, is concerned about car trouble
and has called for advice.
Blank calmly tells her son to be careful, to keep his motor club card handy and to call back if he needs to.
It is a stark contrast to the Nancy Blank fans of Hopkins women's basketball know: the head coach who paces frantically during games, hollers encouragement liberally and makes her frustrations known without upsetting the referees.
Those two sides of Blank do cross paths on a regular basis. She no doubt uses her coaching skills at home and her mothering skills on the court.
"As a parent you're always used to fixing things, making everything right," she says. "That carries over to coaching a little bit. A coach has to constantly analyze and sort of repair what's wrong."
Very little went wrong this year. Blank and the women's basketball team completed in March their most successful season in the history of the sport at Hopkins. In addition to a 25-5 record, they made it to the NCAA round of eight, losing to Scranton, who went on to advance to the Final Four. Blank, an 11-year veteran at Hopkins who also coached at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, was named the Women's Basketball Coaches Association Division III District 4 Coach of the Year by a group of WBCA head coaches.
Blank gives credit for the team's success--and her own accolades--right back to the players and assistant coaches.
"I have good kids," she says. "The real challenge of coaching is trying to blend new personalities with returning players.
"Everybody has a role to play," she says. "At some point-- mid-January, I think--they came into those roles, and a real closeness developed out of that. They're real good at supporting each other."
The players might have learned the importance of such closeness from the three women out on the court with them for every practice and game: Blank, who also serves as an assistant athletic director for the department, and assistant coaches Wanda Richardson and Maureen Davies.
"All three of us come at the game and come at coaching from different angles," Blank says. "But we always get on the same page when it's time to get on the same page. I really believe that's why we've had a good program."
Blank, who describes herself as "gung-ho and intense" says Richard-son's reserved, quiet manner meshes well with Davies' "typical redhead" behavior, which includes a shorter fuse and passionate feelings about the game.
"We have great relationships, both on and off the court," Blank says. "We have tremendous chemistry for a staff."
Blank became a coach after a short-lived career in nursing left her wanting more. While working at a basketball camp with a coach who knew her as a player at Messiah College, she was encouraged to get back in the game, and was later offered an assistant coaching position at her alma mater. She went on to become head coach at Messiah, where she compiled a 126-89 record.
When Blank arrived at Hopkins, the women's basketball team was just 10 years old and had yet to achieve a winning season. Blank's immediate predecessor was primarily a tennis coach and had never done much recruiting for the team.
In her first year, Blank recruited eight players. By the third year, the team had posted its first winning record of 12 wins and 10 losses; they have not had a losing season since.
"They were so accustomed to losing," Blank says of the first players she encountered at Hopkins. "I wanted to give them structure and discipline, but I also wanted to motivate them to improve the program."
If the first few years were spent building the women's basketball program, the last few have been spent solidifying it.
"These last four years we've really turned a corner in terms of putting the program on the map," she says. "The program has blossomed."
Blank does 90 percent of the recruiting for the team, and winds up competing for players with other schools in the University Athletic Association and elsewhere.
"Coaching is a lot more than just throwing a ball out on the court," Blank says. "I take it home with me every night. All of our coaches here are very dedicated. You don't have much of a life during the season."
Though she admits that son Jared and daughter Courtney may have harbored minor resentments toward her hectic schedule, Blank believes the many benefits of her 20-year coaching career have outweighed any sacrifices.
"I just love this game, and I love working with the athletes," Blank says. "I feel like this is really where I'm supposed to be. And I feel real fortunate to be able to come to work every day and love my job."
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