Although the Juniata Valley girls basketball team only finished 9-13 last year, coaches in the ICC North praised first-year coach Rachelle Hopsicker and talked about how she would make the Lady Hornets a force in the area.
They seem to be right. Valley has started the year 11-4. The Mirror's Philip Cmor caught up with her recently.
Mirror: You had some pretty prominent players coming back heading into the year. How do you assess your 11-4 start?
Hopsicker: We knew we had a lot of talent. We lost Sam [Anders] in the second game, and Sam was a senior who gave us a lot of leadership, so that was a tough blow. But we knew we had a lot of talent on this year's team. I think we have about nine players who are pretty even, so we can put a lot of them out there without losing anything.
Mirror: What brought you to the area?
Hopsicker: It's kind of ironic. We were just talking about this. People ask me, 'Why do you coach? You don't seem to get a lot out of it.' When my husband and I got married, he was working at Penn State Altoona, and I was working in Stroudsburg, and I was offered a Division I basketball job, and we had to decide whose career we were going to go with. I go, 'Well, I'm going to have the kids, so go with Peter's.' I chose not to take that, and I came out to Altoona. We'd been in Altoona for a couple of years. I'd run a basketball camp in the Poconos for a couple of years, and one of my counselors was Amy Buxbaum from Juniata College. So, she asked me to come on board and help her out. That's what brought me to Alexandria.
Mirror: You played ball at Fordham?
Hopsicker: I did.
Mirror: Is basketball in this area the same as it was for you in northeastern Pennsylvania growing up?
Hopsicker: Honestly, it took me 10 years to get into it here. Nobody knew me, and I didn't make a big deal about who I was or what I knew. Until I got involved in the community, it was part of their life. I was something on the outside. Basketball's big where I lived, too, but I think it's hard to get in to whatever area you're in. It's all different, everywhere we go. It's a different caliber now. It's a year-round sport than when I went.
Mirror: What's the foundation of your coaching?
Hopsicker: Ironically, it's not about basketball. I am preparing these kids for life. It's because of what I went through. I worked hard for what I got. Basketball afforded me a lot in life, and I got to travel the country and visit different communities. I've always been a proponent of giving back. I'm trying to teach these kids more about giving back and teach them life lessons. In the same process, they're learning more about basketball and succeeding. I don't think they really realize they're becoming better basketball players, because they are actually learning things about working harder and putting time into it or doing the right thing. We take them into the community. We've taken them to Toys for Tots and soup kitchen. They volunteer at Hartslog Days, not knowing that it's making them better people and bringing them closer together than they would be, and it's helping them become better basketball players.
Mirror: You are involved in Hartslog Days. How did you get so involved in the community?
Hopsicker: I have been brought up in a culture ... have you heard of Hersch Track and Field? It's a youth track and field program. Since I was a child, I was in it for years. I won states. I was in states for softball throw. When I got through it, I was 14, and I volunteered. The guy who ran it said, 'This is what you do. You give back.' Then I went to Fordham, and it wasn't all necessarily about basketball. It was about giving back to my community. It's a Catholic school. We visited the Jesuits, all the older folks that had retired. We did other things besides basketball. I really didn't understand it until I went through it. Then I just kept doing it. When I came to Altoona, I knew no one. And my husband knew no one, either. I went to church down in Huntingdon, and the only thing I had in common with people were that I had a child. I slowly made friends by doing things that they did. There were four of us, then six, then other people asked, 'Can we join your group?' I went to the museum the one day and they asked if I wanted to be on the museum board. I said, 'Yeah, sure. I'm a stay-at-home mom. I don't do anything. I gave up basketball.' So then they said, 'If you don't do Hartslog Days, Hartslog Days is going to end.' So I was like, 'OK. No pressure.' So I started doing that, and I helped out when Jama [Greene] was coaching."
Mirror: Do you have any idea how long you plan to be coaching?
Hopsicker: I love coaching. I love basketball. My life if basketball, my community and my children. I think I'm here for the long run. I want to make this program good for my children, but not just my children. I could see myself here for a long time.''