NEWBERRY – All of us at some point when we were younger were told to ‘dream big’ and that ‘the sky is the limit’. Imagine your dreams merging together with your passions to create a life that you are able to live out every day.
Hannah Lepaio is one of the lucky ones. Her urge to help people, love of basketball, and passion for coaching combined perfectly when the Women’s Basketball Coaching Association in partnership with the Alliance of Women Coaches chose her to participate in their prestigious program.
Assistant coach Joanna Tincher suggested this program to Lepaio and told her to apply. "We joke with her that she is already a coach to us because she is such a great leader. She always comes prepared and this will only help her," said Tincher.
The ‘So’ program is designed to assist female collegiate basketball players interested in coaching by providing them with education, skills enhancement, networking, and exposure to opportunities. It also increases awareness concerning the availability of talented female basketball players who want to coach women’s basketball at various levels.
This is a rare and highly competitive opportunity with only the top 50 student-athletes across the three divisions being chosen to partake. Lepaio is the second player from Newberry under head coach Sean Page’s tutelage to obtain this honor. Kaitlynn Pacholke participated in the 2015-2016 season.
“I am just really excited to get the opportunity to learn from various coaches in women’s basketball,” said Lepaio.
The senior forward is double majoring in psychology and criminal justice. Before this opportunity was afforded to her she had plans to pursue her Master’s degree in psychology with interests in general psych and counseling. Basketball was still pulling on her heartstrings, however.
And rightfully so. Hannah has stepped into the coaching role on numerous occasions in her hometown of Bathurst, New South Wales, Australia. Although these de facto coaching gigs were on an amateur level, Lepaio is thankful for the opportunities.
She co-coached alongside her sister, Haylee, in 2012 on a volunteer basis in order to give back to the Goldminers Under 12 Second Team which is program they grew up playing in. Reflecting back she states, “The focus was primarily on fundamentals and having fun…it was such a great learning opportunity.” She continued, “Mostly I learned how to explain different concepts in a number of ways in order to help everyone understand.”
Her next prospect came after an untimely injury cost her the opportunity to play on her State League Team but led her to becoming the coach. Since Hannah traveled with the team, knew the plays well, and had immense knowledge of the game she stepped into the head role. The state team is open to ages 18-35 years old, and Hannah was only 17.
“I learned so much about basketball during that season including dealing with player conflict and how to coach various situations like at the end of games as well as during foul trouble. I more so learned about myself. I started sticking up for myself and had confidence in the decisions I made. I dealt with my injury and learned there were other areas of basketball I could explore.”
Hannah will get the opportunity to build upon these skills through the ‘So’ program. She will get the chance to attend seminars orchestrated by various women’s basketball coaches. These lessons will teach the attendees every facet of coaching from drills to the hiring process. Lepaio and the others will also get their resumes submitted to coaches who are already in the business.
"The ‘So’ program is an extremely exclusive program so this is a huge honor for Hannah to be able to attend but is definitely well-deserved," said Page. He continued, "She has an opportunity to develop while networking and learning from some of the best coaches in the country."
The WBCA has put on the 'So' program for 16 years and has graduated 814 participants. Of those, roughly 54 percent are currently working in women’s or girls’ basketball at various levels. There are 53 alumni who are head women’s or girls’ basketball coaches; five in Division I, three in Division II, 11 in Division III, one in the NAIA, four in the two-year college level, and 29 at the high school level.
The ‘So’ program will run from March 28-30, 2018 in Columbus, Ohio with a chance to attend the Division I Women’s Final Four.