KELSEY HOGAN was probably ecstatic when she moved from assistant coach to head coach of the University of New Hampshire’s women’s basketball program. And why not? It was a positive career move, and everything about her new job seemed terrific — with one exception: the timing of her promotion.
Hogan, who played basketball at Nashua North and at UNH, was named UNH’s interim head coach in April, and the interim title was removed in August. Both moves came deep into the pandemic, which caused her job description to change more than a little. Following safety protocols became more important than overseeing shooting drills or implementing press defenses.
Coaching during the age of COVID-19 has brought its share of uncertainty, but Hogan, 30, received some comforting news Monday when America East issued a press release that stated the conference had taken initial steps toward a return to competition. Barring any setbacks, America East is planning to have an 18-game regular season for its men’s and women’s basketball teams. UNH would play each opponent in the 10-team conference twice. Conference play is scheduled to begin on Dec. 19-20, and all games will be played on the weekend with the same opponents meeting on Saturday and Sunday (some Sunday-Monday matchups are possible).
On Tuesday, Hogan spoke with the Union Leader about her new job and a variety of other subjects related to the UNH women’s basketball program:
RB: Are you confident UNH will have a 2020-21 basketball season?
KH: I would say that America East and the University of New Hampshire, the NCAA — everyone is working hard to come up with scenarios to try and have a season. Nothing is guaranteed, so we are trying to stay optimistic and hopeful for the season and the scenario America East came out with (Monday), but we do understand that the top priority is safety. Our big push is to find the safe way to have games.
RB: Do you have a schedule in place?
KH: It is not finalized yet. The NCAA has bumped back the official start date for women’s basketball and men’s basketball — I think it’s the same date — to Nov. 25.
RB: How do you feel about playing games only on the weekend?
KH: If it’s the safest way and we can all stay safe while doing it, I do like it.
RB: When were you allowed to start practicing?
KH: The first official practice was last week. The university has done a phenomenal job with the safety protocols to allow us to have somewhat of a normal practice. We have three phases. We’ve been able to move forward and now we’re in Phase 3 where we can play five on five. We can have contact, but we all do wear masks. We are hand-sanitizing after every drill. We are keeping our distance when we are pausing drills and instructing. We also are wiping down the basketballs like crazy with disinfecting wipes and keeping the social distance as much as we can, especially with water breaks.
RB: Do you know if spectators will be allowed to attend games?
KH: We’re trying to find the safest way to play games, so we have not talked about spectators yet.
RB: What’s it been like for you having your first head coaching job during these uncertain times? Has it taken some of the fun out of it or prevented you from doing your job the way you want to?
KH: Getting this title … for me it’s a dream come true. It truly is. Even with so much going on I’m very grateful for the opportunity. I will tell you that it’s already teaching me a lot and I’m growing through the new job, but it (the current climate) doesn’t take the love and passion away from me. If anything I think it’s more just because of the adversity with what we’re dealing with as a country and of course what we’re dealing with as a university — and from an athletic standpoint as well. I think it’s given me more passion to be that mentor — that teacher-first coach I always talk about. Just making sure I’m there for my student-athletes and the young ladies on the team, and that’s both on and off the court. Crazy as it sounds I think it’s given me more love and more motivation for the position I’m in right now.
RB: How tough has it been to recruit?
KH: That’s a whole other story. We have been doing a ton of Zoom calls. I’m very face-to-face oriented. I like to meet all the recruits face to face, get to know them and their families. This has thrown us for a loop, but we’re figuring it out. A lot of film and a lot of emails. It is very different, yes, but we’re finding a way.
RB: Did you lose any players because of the pandemic? Did anybody choose not to play or not return to school?
KH: We have been very fortunate. We do have the full team back. No one has opted out.
RB: What kind of team do you have? Do you have a lot of experience back?
KH: We are very young. We have one senior, Amanda Torres from Hudson. She had a phenomenal year last year. I think it was her breakout year, so I’m really excited about her senior year. We have some younger players who have really improved even with the months of being away from each other. I’m really excited about the team, even with being young. We bring some fire, toughness and grit to the table. They get after it every day. We’ll be quick. We’re definitely guard-heavy and we’re gonna use that strength. We’re gonna play up-tempo. We’re gonna allow our defense to fuel our offense a little bit. I think we’ll be a fun program to watch.
RB: Has America East announced any plans for postseason play? Will there be a conference tournament?
KH: We are not there yet. Right now we’re just focused on a safe regular season.