Belle Vernon hires one of program’s best players, Kaitlyn Slagus, as girls basketball coach

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Tuesday, June 23, 2020 | 6:05 PM


Kaitlyn Slagus is one of the best basketball players to ever take the court at Belle Vernon Area High School.

Now, she’ll be taking the court again in a different role — head coach.

The former professional and Bucknell standout was hired Monday by the school board to fill the role after the resignation of Ronnie Drennen last month.

“I knew coaching was something I wanted to do, but I never once thought it would be here,” Slagus said of her alma mater. “It feels so awesome. I helped out Ronnie during the summer the last few years. Now I’m really excited to make this program my own.”

The board also hired Taylor Waltenbaugh, a teacher in the district, as one of Slagus’ assistants. She was also a candidate.

“I’ll be meeting with Taylor on Thursday. I’m really looking forward to getting to know her. I know she had a great career and was a former assistant at Hempfield at one point,” Slagus said. “It’s kind of like going into my freshman year of college and meeting a new roommate. I’m really excited to get to know her, and I’m excited to see what we can put together with our different backgrounds.”

Slagus was a star at Bucknell, helping to lead the Bison to two Patriot League championships. She was a 10-time league player of the week, three-time all-conference choice and a first-team selection after averaging 13 points and over seven rebounds per game as a senior. She was the Patriot League tournament MVP in her senior season.

She left Bucknell as the school’s all-time leading rebounder with 949, second in blocks (150) and is seventh on the all-time scoring list with 1,487 points.

“Kaitlyn was very impressive in the interview process,” BVA athletic director Matt Humbert said. “Her basketball pedigree and experience overseas and collegiately was very appealing. We feel she’ll be a great fit and interject a lot of enthusiasm in the program.”

Slagus said she wants to get started as soon as possible but the pandemic brings about challenges.

“I have to credit Tracy Lovett, the girls soccer coach, for catching me up to speed on the covid guidelines and what we can and can’t do,” she said. “I’m hoping to have one of those ‘meet the coaches’ nights so I can meet with players and parents and get this started.”

While Slagus is sure the job will come with its challenges on and off the court, she’s ready to take them head on thanks to a great support system filled with coaches and former players at all levels.

“I think I understand a lot of the challenges, especially with change,” Slagus said. “Through playing at Bucknell, I’ve gone through a lot of coaching changes, but I’m fortunate because I was able to get really close to all of them and (become) friends with them. They’re role models for me and I know I can bounce anything off of them any time looking for advice on how to handle situations, or just asking basic questions or opinions.”

Slagus said it was through the strength of those supporting her, especially her family, that she felt she was ready to take the step into coaching.

“Everyone gave me a lot of reassurance,” she said. “I know, and everyone else should know, I’m going to make mistakes out there. I know the players will, too. But most importantly, I’m going to learn from those. Adding so many mentors to my circle helped and I couldn’t do this without the support of my family.”

Belle Vernon features a lot of young talent, and Slagus doesn’t want that to add more pressure to her or her players.

“Ronnie left the girls in a good place. I don’t want to put the pressure on us. If we go out there and play hard and do our best, the talent we have will take care of everything,” she said.

Slagus said playing in college and professionally in Ireland has influenced the way her team will play.

“I want to play fast and get up and down the floor,” she said. “That’s part of my make-up now. I want to play quick and push the ball. With that style, we’re going to be aggressive defensively and really try to bring the pressure.”

One of the biggest challenges coaching at her alma mater in front of family and friends is turning off the “friend” switch and being the coach.

“It’s funny because one of my friends asked me if I even know how to yell or scream,” she said with a laugh. “Everyone knows me as a friend, but now I have to be these girls’ head coach. It’s something everyone will have to get used to, even me.”

Slagus said with Waltenbaugh on board, she’s looking to add one or two more assistant coaches to her staff. Former assistant Shara Kapr will be on the staff and coach the middle school girls team.

“Another big thing is we have a program here at Belle Vernon. I’m looking forward to getting the middle school on board with some of the schemes the high school will be running,” she said. “With my experience, knowing those girls that I’ve played against that grew up in similar systems, they were tough. That’s something I want to continue.”

She also added that she’ll continue holding clinics for younger players learning the game through the Little Leopards program.

“All that is important and will definitely be something I want to continue,” she said. “I’m so excited to be able to continue to build our program and get it to the next level.”

In last 24 hours, Slagus said it’s been a whirlwind with congratulations coming from all angles. But now she’s ready to get to work, beginning with coaching the Lee Supply team in the Mon Valley Independent Summer Basketball League at Marx’s Court Time Sports Center.

“I took that head coaching job before even thinking about becoming the high school head coach,” Slagus said. “I think it’s going to be a good learning experience for me as a head coach, especially when it comes to coaching in different situations.

“I’m really excited to get the summer season started and work with the high school program. I’m extremely thankful for the opportunities I have and can’t wait to get started.”

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