Onetime Hampton baseball player reaches NCAA Division II Elite Eight as basketball coach

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Saturday, April 6, 2024 | 11:01 AM


Hampton graduate David Steckel took an unlikely path from a high school baseball player to an assistant coach for an Elite Eight men’s basketball team.

Steckel, a 2011 Hampton graduate, capped his sixth season at Southern New Hampshire with a conference championship and a trip to the NCAA Division II Elite Eight in Evansville, Ind., during an unforgettable March run.

“It all happened so quickly,” the 31-year-old Steckel said. “We got hot at the right time. To be able to cut down the nets in our own gym was a little bit surreal.”

Southern New Hampshire claimed the Northeast-10 Conference title as a No. 5 seed — cutting down the nets at Spirou Field House after a 75-60 win over No. 6 seed Southern Connecticut State on March 9 — and earned an automatic bid to the NCAA D-II Tournament.

The Penmen won three NCAA tourney games to reach the Elite Eight for the first time since 2014, where their season ended with 68-60 loss to D-II powerhouse Nova Southeastern on March 26. SNHU led by 17 early in the second half but couldn’t hold off the defending national champions.

SNHU’s season culminated with a 24-11 record and lasting memories for Steckel, sixth-year coach Jack Perri and the players.

“So proud of our guys,” Perri told the New Hampshire Union Leader after the loss. “Pleasure to coach this group. Hopefully we’ve established the environment I’ve been looking for and we’ve set ourselves up for success in the future.”

Said Steckel, “It was a really cool experience. It’s good for our guys to have that as a reward. It took a long time to build the program up over the past few years. It was awesome, and I’m super glad that those guys got that experience.”

Steckel “never played one minute” of basketball at Hampton — he was a senior on the Talbots’ 2011 WPIAL Class 3A finalist baseball team — but he caught the basketball coaching bug while attending Duquesne men’s games with his late uncle, Barry Steckel, as a middle schooler and high schooler.

“I became fascinated with the recruiting side of it,” Steckel said. “At that point, I decided that I really enjoyed basketball, and I wanted to look at it as a career option and took it a little more seriously. … That’s kind of what set me on the road.”

Steckel’s coaching journey started as a student manager at Duquesne in 2011-12 under Ron Everhart. He continued with the same job under Jim Ferry, eventually being hired as a graduate assistant in 2015. Steckel worked as an assistant operations and video coordinator until spring 2017 when Ferry was fired following a 10-22 season.

After one season as director of operations at Division I Albany, Steckel was tabbed by newly hired Perri in August 2018 to join his SNHU staff. Perri had been a longtime assistant at LIU-Brooklyn under Ferry and took over the top spot at the NEC school when Ferry left for Duquesne in ‘12. That connection helped Steckel land his first assistant coaching job, five years after getting his feet wet as an ambitious student manager as a freshman at Duquesne.

“It’s been awesome,” Steckel said of SNHU. “This is a place that has a ton of resources. The campus is beautiful. They fund us really well. I couldn’t have lucked into a better situation if I tried, to be completely honest with you.”

Steckel’s responsibilities include academic oversight, opponent scouting, game-planning and many hours watching film and poring over the transfer portal as part of the new-age recruiting process. SNHU’s roster this season included seven Division I transfers. As far as his next step, Steckel is concentrating on the Manchester, N.H. school.

“I like to be where my feet are,” Steckel said. “Whatever comes next, comes next. But that’s not something I’m super focused on. I just want to do the best job here that I can.”

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