At the end of every home basketball game, the Penn State Lady Lions line up across the court hand in hand to sing the alma mater. Standing alongside the players and coaching staff, part of the team, is Altoona native Rachel Rito.
The Bishop Guilfoyle and Penn State grad is the daughter of Ed and Anne Rito. She's in the midst of her third season as director of basketball operations, a position which sparked her interest after an internship with assistant athletic director Jennifer James in the Penn State athletic department.
"I just fell in love with events and athletics," Rito said from her office at the Bryce Jordan Center, "and of course I love Penn State, so that's how I got started."
Rito's responsibilities range from marketing and management to community relations, include running the team's kids club and working with the boosters and alumni. She also coordinates all of the team's travel and service projects, as well as overseeing the managers and helping with basketball camps.
But her favorite part of the job is working directly with the players and coaches.
"The student-athletes make it fun, without a doubt," she said. "They can be such an entertaining group of girls. On road trips they're constantly singing and having fun."
During her tenure, Rito has worked with the team as it transitioned to the new coaching staff, enjoying her front-row seat for the Coquese Washington era.
"I admire her interaction with the student-athletes," Rachel said, "encouraging them, helping them whether it's athletically, academically or personally, whatever she can do she's always there to help them. And just the way I see her interact with the administration, fans, anybody ... she's just such a great person, and it's wonderful to work with her."
Through the changes, the squad has naturally experienced some growing pains. Rito said, "Being part of the team, if they hurt, I hurt. If they win, I'm happy. I'm very invested in their accomplishments. It's like we're a big family."
Traditionally, the director of operations job is a stepping stone to other coaching or athletic management positions.
"I'd like to one day be an athletic director or assistant athletic director at a university," Rito said. "I'd like to stay at Penn State. My heart's at Penn State."
While sitting in the stands at BG rooting for the Marauders in high school, Rachel may have never imagined that one day she'd be center court at Penn State, but now she looks forward to what her promising future may hold.
"If you have a dream, you need to follow it," she said. "Don't let anybody tell you that you can't do something. Determination and hard work can go a long way. I don't think anything is out of reach."
Kellie Goodman can be reached at email@example.com. Her column appears on Tuesdays.