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Hopsicker looks forward to SFU assistant job

Rachelle Hopsicker

Former Pennsylvania State Sports Writers and Altoona Mirror Coach of the Year Rachelle Hopsicker has landed an assistant coaching job with the Saint Francis women’s basketball program.

Red Flash head coach Keila Whittington announced the hiring of Hopsicker and Shawnice Wilson as assistant coaches on Friday. Altoona graduate Natalie Knab, who served as a graduate assistant coach during the 2019-20 season, will also take over as the Director of Basketball Operations for the team.

“I want to be part of something special with Keila, who really has this program on the right track,” Hopsicker said. “It’s the perfect fit. We believe a lot of the same things like community service and putting the time in to get better in the offseason. I already feel like part of the family.”

Hopsicker is hoping to bring the family she helped create in the Juniata Valley school district and Alexandria community to Loretto with her this winter.

“I think the sea of green may be a little more Christmas-themed now,” Hopsicker said. “Hopefully they’ll be wearing red and green.”

Hopsicker led Juniata Valley to the PIAA Class 1A title game in back-to-back seasons in 2017 and 2018. The Lady Hornets finished as the runner-up in both seasons. Hopsicker, who played Division I basketball at Fordham, coached the last nine seasons at Juniata Valley where she went 162-62 after taking over for former coach Jama Greene, who passed away.

“Before Jama passed away, I had no intentions of getting into high school basketball,” Hopsicker said. “I got the call, and I think Juniata Valley needed me. Sometimes you are sent places.”

“At first it wasn’t about winning, it was about healing. As a kid from Pennsylvania you grow up dreaming about playing in Hershey. It was awesome to take two teams there and see how much it meant to the kids and be part of that. I tell the kids all the time that we’ll talk about those 10 years the rest of our lives. I know we made history at Juniata Valley, and no one will forget us.”

Juniata Valley opened both the boys and girls coaching jobs in March. Hopsicker’s name was up for board approval to be re-hired as the Lady Hornets coach this summer, but the item was taken off the agenda after she met with the school prior to the meeting.

“My job opened at Juniata Valley, and I had been approached a couple times to go up to Saint Francis,” Hopsicker said. “I reached out to say I was available, but nothing was open. After the process already started with Juniata Valley with the interviewing, I got a call to see if I was interested. When I said (to Juniata Valley) that I had to weigh my options, that was my option. COVID-19 slowed down the process quite a bit.”

Whittington is thrilled Hopsicker will be joining her staff.

“Coach Rock has admired the program at Saint Francis from afar, and she wanted an opportunity to work in the college game again,” Whittington said. “Because she has head coaching experience, she will help immediately in many aspects of the program, and I know our players will love her infectious smile, passion for teaching, and energy.”

Hopsicker served as an assistant coach at Juniata for three years before leaving in 2002.

“When I left, I knew I wanted to go back someday,” Hopsicker said. “I think this was an opportunity of a lifetime with the proximity and the level of basketball at Saint Francis.

“When I got married to Peter (Hopsicker), he was working at Penn State Altoona. I got offered a Division I job at Sacred Heart, but we made the decision he was going back for his doctorate and we wanted to have kids. But we made a pact that if there was an opportunity down the road, I would love to get back into it.”

Saint Francis has had a lot of recent success with local players like Bellwood-Antis graduate Karson Swogger and Bishop McCort graduate Haley Thomas. Hopsicker is hoping her connections in the high school game will lead to more opportunities to bring in local talent.

“Knowing all the coaches around here and knowing the kids around here, I think I can be part of helping that continue,” Hopsicker said. “There are a lot of amazing basketball players in this area that are sometimes under-recruited.”

Knab, who played basketball at Altoona and Chatham before graduating in 2019, is a valued member of Whittington’s staff.

“I realized that I did not have to look far to find the right person to serve as our DOBO,” Whittington said. “Natalie is willing to work her way to the top to achieve her goal of becoming a Division I college coach. She has a unique love for the game that is sometimes hard to find, and she is willing to put in the work to make sure that everything is running smoothly in our program.”

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