The dawn of a new era began for Penn State on Feb. 15, when longtime head coach Charlene Morett-Curtiss announced her retirement after 36 seasons helming the program.
Morett-Curtiss enjoyed an assortment of success with the Nittany Lions, winning 541 games during her tenure while also leading the team to 30 NCAA Tournament appearances.
The six-time Big Ten Coach of the Year certainly leaves behind big shoes to fill; however, new coach Lisa Bervinchak-Love may be the perfect choice to step into the role, and she has Morett-Curtiss’ endorsement.
“The comfort that I have is in knowing [Bervinchak-Love] has been named the head coach,” Morett-Curtiss said. “She’s the right person for the job.”
Morett-Curtiss would know better than anyone what her successor brings to the table because she spent 29 years coaching alongside Bervinchak-Love. Additionally, the new coach played under Morett-Curtiss at Penn State from 1987-88.
The duo’s dynamic is a unique one because of this longtime connection, with Bervinchak-Love saying it’ll be a bittersweet feeling to step into the role of her mentor and friend.
“I’ve been with Char for 29 years, so we’ve shared a lot of memories,” Bervinchak-Love said. “It’s hard to think of her not on the sideline, and I’m very blessed to have been with her from the start.”
Having played field hockey at Penn State in her own right, Morett-Curtiss’ return to Happy Valley in 1987 began her long and successful journey as head coach. That success was still ongoing this past season, as the Nittany Lions posted a 17-4 record while making it back to the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament in 2022.
Because she was still succeeding at a high level, it may have been a surprise to some to see Morett-Curtiss announce her retirement. She said this was a bit intentional on her part.
“It was something I did want to keep to myself,” Morett-Curtiss said. “I know it was a little surprising for a lot of people, but I really think it’s the right time, and it’s the best thing for the program.”
While losing a figurehead like Morett-Curtiss may not seem like a benefit on paper, the experience Bervinchak-Love possesses could allow Penn State to continue finding postseason success.
Having the longtime associate head coach still on staff after all of these years is quite the achievement. Bervinchak-Love said she never pursued a head coaching opportunity elsewhere because it felt unnecessary.
After a long and successful coaching career, Penn State coach Charlene Morett-Curtiss announ…
“I never needed to go to another university to validate my coaching,” Bervinchak-Love said. “Char’s trust and belief in me didn’t make me feel like I needed to look elsewhere.”
The newly promoted coach added that Morett-Curtiss always made her feel like a valued and critical voice within the team.
“Char always involved me with all of the decision-making, and she gave me a lot of responsibilities,” Bervinchak-Love said.
Bervinchak-Love may have had several responsibilities in the past, but she knows she’ll have more on her plate in the near future. The pressure to keep the blue and white in the postseason conversation comes with the job.
But as she prepares for this new chapter in her coaching career, Bervinchak-Love said she’ll look toward the path Morett-Curtiss has paved to guide her own vision when coaching the team.
And that starts with bringing the proper energy each day, which she said is one of her goals.
“Just come to practice every day ready to compete, and have fun competing,” Bervinchak-Love said. “Every day Char showed up at practice with a positive attitude and a lot of passion and love for the game.”
While the two coaches may have a number of similarities, there were also key differences between them that made their tandem work so well. According to Morett-Curtiss, she’d wear her heart on her sleeve a bit more often than her trusted partner.
“I think I come with a lot more emotion,” Morett-Curtiss said. “Lisa has emotion, but she very much keeps hers in check.”
Bervinchak-Love concurred, saying she thinks of herself more as a “quiet leader.”
“I think our difference is in our delivery of our messages with the team,” Bervinchak-Love said. “Char is the first one to jump in and go crazy and be cheering, but that’s not so much me. But obviously in this new role, I’m going to have to speak up a little more.”
Now at the helm without Morett-Curtiss’ familiar presence, Bervinchak-Love’s main goal will be ensuring the Nittany Lions return to the NCAA Tournament for a third-straight season.
But she’ll also likely be focused on finding comfort in her new position and making this transition go as seamlessly as possible.
A change in a team’s leading voice after such a long time will always bring some questions about what the future holds, but with Bervinchak-Love’s continued presence, the culture Morett-Curtiss built might just remain intact.
“We do have a lot of the same values and beliefs, which allowed us to work together,” Bervinchak-Love said. “Hopefully I can honor her legacy. I’m very excited for this next chapter.”
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