A familiar face found herself in an unfamiliar position on Saturday in the Lady Lions’ exhibition game against California (Pa.).
Former Penn State standout guard and now first-year Vulcans’ head coach, Jess Strom, was on the opposing team’s bench for the first time as head coach at the Bryce Jordan Center.
It has been seven years since Strom last played for Lions, but just like any alumni’s return, Penn State holds a special place in Strom’s heart.
“Coming back here, even when the bus pulled back on campus, it’s just the same feeling you get…It’s like you never left…It always feels like home,” Strom said after the Lions defeated her Vulcans, 95-39.
In more ways than one, Strom’s second home has changed significantly in those seven years since she last was a student at Penn State.
There are the obvious changes, like the administration and football coach. There are the subtle changes, like the additions of Noodles & Company and Levels. Then there are the changes to the women’s basketball program.
Strom ended her collegiate playing days in 2004-05 after suffering a defeat to Liberty in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. It would be the last time Penn State made it to the tournament until 2010-11.
In the next two seasons, mediocrity took over for success, but basketball soon became forgotten as then head coach Rene Portland found herself knee deep in controversy over her treatment of homosexual players in 2007.
After 37 years of coaching Penn State women’s basketball, Portland resigned in 2007, bringing uncertainty to the historic program.
Then, in 2007, now head coach Coquese Washington stepped in to rebuild an ailing team.
While it did not start off perfectly, as Washington was greeted by two losing seasons. However, the Lions soon made their triumphant return to the national spotlight, making the NCAA tournament in 2010-11 then making it to the Sweet 16 the following season.
“The winning tradition is back and that’s just really nice to see,” Strom said.
In her press conference last Wednesday, Washington credited the winning tradition to the risks that her senior class took on giving Penn State a chance.
That chance has helped restore a program that Strom admits she is anxious to see how far it can go.
Strom also noted how junior guard Maggie Lucas reminds her of Penn State all-time leading scorer, Kelly Mazzante, to a “T.”
As the new era continues its success, the old era still lives.
Strom said that Portland definitely left an impact on her coaching style.
“We run practice the same ways,” Strom said laughing. “I swore when I was here, I would never do that, I would never make them do… I make them do that.”
And Washington said she is excited where Strom can take her Vulcans.
“I’m happy to be able to bring her back for our fans get a chance to see her and watch her grow as a coach,” Washington said. “That’s fun for our the fans and fun for our kids to see her in that role.”