Kristi Kaack enjoyed some tremendous achievements in her career as a player, leaving little doubt that she’s one of the best women’s basketball players ever from the Altoona area.
But for everything Kristi accomplished as a player, she said that what she and her Bishop Guilfoyle Lady Marauders have achieved this season is even more rewarding.
The BG girls have reached the PIAA Class 1A state championship game and will meet Jenkintown on Friday afternoon in Hershey for the title.
Kaack played in two Western finals as a player for Altoona, losing both times, and left the storied high school program as the Lady Lions’ career scoring leader (1,177 points; she’s now second behind Sam Reimer). Kristi went on to have a stellar playing career at Duquesne and was one of the best defensive players you’ll ever see, earning two Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Year honors, and she was inducted into the Duquesne Hall of Fame in 2016.
But Kaack (maiden name Little) never got to the point in her playing career where she was playing for this type of prestigious championship. Friday’s game will mark her first appearance in the PIAA title game in this, her third season as BG’s coach, and the tradition-rich Lady Marauders will make their first appearance in the state championship game since 2011.
“Honestly, as a coach, I think it feels a little bit more rewarding,” she said of getting this far. “Because as a player, you feel like you have a lot of control over what happens because you’re the one out there doing it. But as a coach, it’s your job to prep your kids and get them ready and then put them on the floor and just watch them do it. For me, that’s been the most rewarding thing.”
LISTEN: Kristi Kaack joined “Sports Central with Cory Giger” to discuss BG’s run to the state title game
Bishop Guilfoyle defeated Rochester, 55-50, Tuesday night in the state semifinals. As Wednesday afternoon rolled around, it had finally started to sink in what the team has already accomplished and what it can further accomplish Friday.
“Almost overwhelming,” Kaack said of the feeling. “It took, I think, til midway through the day today where it really sunk in that we’re going to be playing in Hershey on Friday. So, just trying to appreciate and soak in every second right now, not only for the game, but for the couple days left that we have with these seniors and this group in particular. Just trying to enjoy every second right now.”
Kaack said she told the players in the locker room after their semifinal win over Rochester, “I’ve sat in your shoes, but I never got the feeling that you got to feel afterwards. And watching their faces, it was everything I would imagine as a player.
“For me the best part,” she added, “was watching them with their parents afterwards, because it’s just a special thing.”
Speaking of families, the BG girls aren’t just led by one Kaack. Kristi’s husband, Adam, is an assistant coach with the team and served as acting head coach for part of last year when Kristi had the couple’s third child.
BG was in position to make a run at a state title last year, but the season was canceled in the playoffs. The Lady Marauders had a team that perhaps could have won it all, so that was a crushing blow to have their opportunity taken away.
The BG team played well early last season, then really kicked things into gear late in the year and in the playoffs.
What led to the impressive surge?
“I think the biggest thing for us last year that’s even carried into this year, there was a level of trust on our team that there were five kids on the floor that were capable on the offensive end and capable on the defensive end, and they just trusted each other and they worked really hard together and they work really hard for each other,” Kaack said.
“When you find kids that are gonna put the common goal above individual goals, you’re gonna be a pretty good team. And we have right now five kids on the floor that want to do that, and it’s really carried over from last year.”
This year’s team knew all along that it would have a chance to get to Hershey, returning four starters from last year’s team, but the process was made even more difficult with everyone having to deal with a delay to the start of the season and COVID protocols.
“We had really high goals at the beginning of the season,” Kaack said, “so we imagined that we would be here. But actually going through it and seeing the work that you have to put in to get here, it’s just really rewarding for the kids right now.”