Former MU women's basketball stars now have new role as coaches
During the 2005-06 season, they were four members of the Mansfield University women's basketball team, helping to guide the Mountaineers to a 7-5 mark in conference and earn their first ever playoff spot.
Alison Tagliaferri was a senior on that team, Katie Akins a sophomore and Clarissa (Correll) Cummings and Mallory Hafer were both freshmen.
All four loved the game of basketball, something that is noticeable now as the four are all coaches.
"I honestly don't think I had any desire (to coach) when I was playing," Tagliaferri said. "It wasn't really until when I played overseas. I had applied for the Penn College job the summer when I returned from Portugal. I had some success overseas and had just come off having my ankle reconstructed and playing was a lot to put my body through after that surgery. I just couldn't imagine not being involved with the game and I just applied for the job thinking I had never coached before, but whatever. I was kind of surprised they gave it to me at first since I had no coaching experience, just my playing experience."
Tagliaferri's story is a familiar one as most of the four didn't imagine that they would be coaching basketball.
"I wasn't looking to coach," Cummings said. "I coached track and the high school track head coach (Jim Farrer) asked me if I would coach and I hadn't really thought about it before."
This year Cummings was the JV coach, and a varsity assistant, at North Penn, while Hafer had the same roles at Muncy.
Tagliaferri took over as the interim head coach at their alma mater Mansfield and Akins took on an assistant role with the Mountaineers.
For Akins she kind of fell into coaching after helping out her friend and former teammate.
"I was in town living and working for Northern Tier Counseling and Al was coaching by herself and doing everything by herself, so I volunteered my help. I worked with the team on Thursday and Friday because those were my days off. When she got the interim job she jokingly, but not jokingly, asked what are the chances of you quitting your job and being my assistant.
"It's something I wouldn't have thought of last year. I tell people if they asked where I would be last year that I wouldn't be here. But, when Al thanks me for helping, I always say no problem, it doesn't seem like work at all."
While she kind of fell into coaching this year it was something that had been on Akins mind in the past.
"I was applying for a position at the Wellsboro school district and they had an opening there and I would have considered a position there if I had gotten that job," Akins said.
While the other three didn't always dream of getting into coaching, it's something that Hafer has always thought about.
"I always saw myself as a coach," she said. "Just being around my dad (Athens girls' soccer coach Duane Hafer) and seeing the joy he got with working with people. Luckily, when I came to Muncy all three sports had openings. I have been fortunate to be at a wonderful school district that gave me an opportunity to coach all three sports."
Being in the right situation has helped all four with coaching.
"I am very grateful for the opportunities I have had," Tagliaferri said. "Mike Sandone was the AD (at Penn College) at the time, and he kind of took a chance on me. He was very supportive of what I was trying to do at Penn College. I was able to get a couple assistant positions, one at Eastern and one at West Chester that I learned a lot at. It's awesome to be able to love what you do. It's a very big blessing.
"I tried the whole normal job thing. I worked at a bank, I worked at an advertising agency. I just felt like I was supposed to be doing something else with my life. I kind of felt like a caged animal."
Now Tagliaferri is at her alma mater and hopes to get the Mountaineers back to where they were during that 2005-2006 season.
"I chose to come to Mansfield as a player," she said. "We didn't have the greatest record the previous year and you go out of state, or sometimes even in the state, and people don't always know where Mansfield is. But, the group of girls I played with starting my freshman year and on, we started to put Mansfield on the map. I think we put Mansfield on the map for a time and I am very excited for the opportunity to put Mansfield on the map permanently."
While Tagliaferri and Akins are coaching college players, Hafer and Cummings are working with kids who are still just learning the game.
"I really like the JV level," Cummings said. "Most of them have played before at the junior high level, so they have a little bit of an understanding, but they are still learning."
"It was a fun year, I got along with the girls so well."
Hafer thinks that being a JV head coach has been good for her.
"It's a good transition for them," Hafer said. "I am a little more laid back and they can get comfortable and then when they get to varsity they have the confidence and the skill set."
While Tagliaferri and Akins each coach at a school they attended, things are a little different for Cummings.
In high school she was a star at rival Mansfield, where two of her brothers still play basketball, and now she is coaching at North Penn.
"It's a little different, just being a part of a different school," Cummings said. "It's really different when we play against Mansfield. I coached junior high there a couple of years ago so I know a lot of the girls. It's different, but I like North Penn, I really like the girls."
That doesn't mean that Cummings doesn't hear about it from her brothers when the Panthers take on the Tigers.
"They make fun of me when Mansfield is playing Blossburg," she said. "They ask me who I'm going to root for. I still cheer for Mansfield when they play."
For Cummings basketball is a nearly everyday thing during the winter.
When she is not coaching she is watching all her brothers home games or taking tickets at the Mansfield University games. All of which is something she couldn't do without the support of her husband, fellow Mansfield graduate Chris Cummings.
"We are at basketball games four or five nights a week," Cummings said. "He is very good about it. He travels to all the games and helps out."
While all the games can be tough, having her husband around has made things easier for Cummings.
"It's something we can do together, both basketball and track," she said.
For all four coaching is a way to stay involved with the sport they love after they are done playing.
"I miss playing, sometimes it's hard on the bench not being able to be out there," Hafer said. "Just the fact that I'm able to share something with these high school kids is good. I don't know what I would do if I didn't have high school basketball to go to. I am very fortunate that I can go in every once in a while and jump in and play with them."
Having played the game at a high level is something that the four know can help them.
"It makes it easier communication wise with the girls," Hafer said. "I can look back and reflect on what I did in high school and my experiences. I can share my experiences with some of these girls that haven't been there. I'm still fresh out of the game really. I think the other coaches respect my opinion in a lot of ways and it's a nice relationship we have going on. The head coaches I have been around love having a younger female coach that can kind of calm the girls down."
Having both played at Mansfield Akins and Tagliaferri know that can help them.
"Not only are we younger, we have not been away from the game that long, but we played in this conference," Akins said. "We know the different competition from the different schools."
While coaching can't make up for not playing, it is a way to share some of the basketball knowledge that these former Mansfield stars have.
"I like being able to control the game," Tagliaferri said. "I was a pitcher in softball and if you needed a basket I wanted you to give me the ball. As a coach, obviously that doesn't work. But, it's great being able to inspire people and motivate people, not just basketball wise, but in life in general."
While most of the four didn't think they would get into coaching, their former teammates all saw this coming.
"Al Tag was helping out with other schools and some other universities while I was still playing and I kind of figured Clarissa was an educator like I am and that's an easy transition," Hafer said.
Akins figured all of the other three would get into coaching at some point.
"I knew she (Tagliaferri) would stay with basketball," Akins said. "She just has such a great passion for it. When she was coaching at Penn College I was still in school at Mansfield and we went down to watch her team play to see her and cheer her on.
"I'm not surprised that either of them (Hafer or Cummings) would become a coach. Mallory has just as much passion and drive to do things, not only coaching basketball, but soccer and softball, continuing her love she had in high school. Clarissa is just part of Mansfield and part of this community. I am not surprised she is sharing her thoughts and her knowledge of the game."
Since she graduated Cummings has stayed involved with Mansfield University, with her husband working for the school and both taking tickets at games for years.
Now, she enjoys seeing her former teammates on the sidelines coaching their old team.
"It's fun to see them," she said. "Al Tag is really good with the alumni stuff and it's really been fun."
The fact that all four have a love and knowledge of the game that is helping them as coaches is also why Tagliaferri thinks they were so successful as players.
"I think it's just a testament to all of us and why we were key ingredients to the success the program has had in the past," Tagliaferri said. "It's a testament to our desire to take that success and be able to create memories for other players. At the end of the day a lot of people don't coach for the money, it's more of an inspiration kind of thing, more of a motivation kind of thing.
"I know Mallory is doing it at the high school level and so is Clarissa. If you can influence a kid then, that's huge. I have had coaches that inspired me at a very early age and that's what they are trying to do. I think we all have a true belief in athletics and how it can influence the rest of your life in a positive way and I think the four of us are proof of that. We learned hard work, blood, sweat and tears."
Akins agrees that all the things that made them coaches are what made them successful as players.
"It's not just the knowledge, but the passion to do well, to win and to work," she said. "We had that passion to strive to go for the playoffs and to have a successful season overall."
And now, the four still have that passion to try and help mold the next group of basketball stars.
"The four of us are coaching, but there are so many other former players that are as well," Tagliaferri said. "So many of us out there have been inspired by our high school success and our college success and we want to do the same thing for others."