PECKVILLE — It was the first meeting between Jay Paterno, the former Penn State quarterbacks coach and son of legendary head football coach Joe Paterno, and new Lady Lions women’s basketball coach Carolyn Kieger.
“I just met her for the first time and I hope she has a great, great career and great success because there’s a great tradition of Penn State women’s basketball,” Paterno said. “Hopefully we’re going to see that Final Four, get a national championship. No pressure. Graduate your players and win a national title and we’re happy.”
Paterno’s remarks before Wednesday’s 41st annual Penn State Night, hosted by the Greater Scranton Chapter Penn State Alumni Association at Fiorelli’s Catering, may have been a tad tongue in cheek, but Kieger, who came to Penn State in April after a successful stint at Marquette, wasn’t thinking anything less ambitious.
“I think Penn State women’s basketball has such an opportunity to get back to where it was, which was national prominence,” said the 35-year-old Kieger, who led Marquette to the NCAA tournament each of her final three years, two Big East titles and was 76-26 her last three seasons in Milwaukee. “And I want to be a big part of getting us back into the national spotlight.
“It’s going to take some work. We’re going to have to roll up her sleeves and really dive into every one of those areas. But I know it can be done. Rene [Portland] has done it before. [Coquese Washington] did it the first three years, three Big 10 championships. The platform is there. The fan base is there. We just have to get them re-energized and excited about what we’re going to do.”
Kieger said it was a difficult decision to leave the alma mater where she played and was head coach for five seasons. But part of the allure of the Penn State job was the school’s culture of success in many other sports.
“I think that’s one of the big reasons I came here is I want to be surrounded by winners,” Kieger said. “And I want to be surrounded by people who wanted to win national championships and compete at the highest level. For me, that’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was 12 years old.”
She will look to coaches like Cael Sanderson, whose team has won eight of the last nine NCAA wrestling titles, and James Franklin, who has led the Nittany Lions football resurgence to elite status, for ideas.
“I’m going to learn from them, I’m going to pick their brain and I’m going to try to emulate what they’ve done with their program,” Kieger said. “Coach Sanderson is someone who left his alma mater to come here, very much like me. He spoke his truth into existence and now he has the most dominant team in the country and obviously we’d love to follow in his footsteps and what he’s been able to do.”
That means keeping the state’s best players here and bringing in the other pieces.
“You have to keep the best home, and you have to build a fence around Pennsylvania, but you also gotta go out and get the best players in the country,” Kieger said. “And they’re out there. And you have to get them excited about the vision and you gotta get them excited about the possibilities. You have to show them what Penn State has to offer not only from a basketball program, but an education, from a degree. I mean, 700,000 living alumni, that’s pretty special. When you start to talk about the total package that Penn State has to offer, I believe eventually we’re going to be able to go out in any pocket in the country and recruit.”