As a former basketball player at St. Hubert, Jackie Hartzell had no idea what to expect when she took the girls basketball head coaching position at Archbishop Ryan five years ago.
After all, the Bambies and Ragdolls are fierce neighborhood rivals, especially when it comes to their school’s athletic teams. But if Hartzell needed any reminder what Ryan ended up meaning to her, she need not look any further than the recent day she told her Ragdoll team she was leaving.
“I don’t know what made me think I would be OK and wouldn’t cry,” she said. “But once I was there and started to tell them, that was when it actually hit me that I was leaving. I was a mess.”
In her five seasons at Ryan, Hartzell molded the Ragdolls into an annual contender in the rugged Catholic League, posting an overall record of 78-49. In her second season in 2009-10, she guided Ryan to the state finals; in Hartzell’s final season, she had her team where it usually was: in the Catholic League playoffs, competing for a championship.
However, consistent success often opens eyes elsewhere. While Hartzell was more than happy with how things were going at Ryan, her strong passion for coaching basketball sometimes let her mind wander to what else was out there. So when Paul Klimitas, athletic director for Division II University of the Sciences, showed interest in interviewing her for the school’s vacant women’s basketball coaching position, Hartzell knew she had to listen.
After a pair of interviews, she was offered the job, which she accepted. The school made the hire official on June 26.
“It happened really, really fast,” Hartzell said by phone on Sunday after a long weekend of recruiting at a tournament in Oaks, Pa. “I was very happy at Ryan, but I was always interested in college if the fit was right. For me, this was the right fit. It’s a local Division II school that plays in a good conference with schools like Holy Family and Philadelphia University. Being able to recruit players and offer athletic scholarships was very appealing to me. And I like that it’s a strong academic school.”
Other factors were also in play for Hartzell. For starters, if she was going to leave Ryan, it would need to be for a similar part-time coaching position so that she could keep her full-time career as a contracting officer for the Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support on track. Not many colleges offer this perk, but University of the Sciences did.
Also, it offered an opportunity to reunite with Megan Wolf, a former Ragdoll under Hartzell who just completed her freshman season at the university. Hartzell coached Wolf for four years at Ryan, as well as three years of AAU ball.
“Meg was the one who actually texted me to first let me know the job was open, telling me to apply,” said Hartzell, who will also get to coach Nazareth Academy alum Jessica Sylvester, a junior for the Devils. “She was one of the first people I told once it was official. She’s really excited, and it’s awesome to be back with her for the next three years.”
Hartzell graduated from St. Hubert in 2001 and was a four-year letter winner at Delaware Valley College from 2001-05. She coached the Bambie freshman team and JV squad at Archbishop Wood before being offered the head coaching position at Ryan by athletic director George Todt in 2008.
Led by star player Jess Koci, who went on to play at La Salle University, Hartzell found success immediately, getting Ryan into the state playoffs. The following year, she had her best season at the school, reaching the PIAA State Finals. In her five seasons, Hartzell averaged almost 16 wins a year.
While informing her Ryan players she was moving on was difficult, Hartzell said she knew they’ll be fine playing for whoever ends up being the new head coach. The biggest takeaway for Hartzell will be how much she came to love a school she tried so hard to defeat while a student-athlete at St. Hubert.
“The last five years have been incredible,” she said. “I met so many great people there and really came to love that place. I’m so grateful to Mr. Todt for giving me the opportunity to be a head coach, because if he didn’t, I don’t think I’d be where I am today. If he doesn’t take a chance on me as a young head coach, then who knows if I get to the college level?”
As far as coaching at the next level, Hartzell admitted she’s still got a lot to learn. High school coaches generally don’t recruit players but she’s confident her large networking Rolodex will lead to connections. Also, University of the Sciences lost no seniors from last season, which should make Hartzell’s transition easier.
She also said she hopes that one day she can move into coaching full-time, and Hartzell said she thought this career move was conducive to that, whereas in high school “I might not get that opportunity.”
Above all else, she’s thankful for Ryan giving her her first varsity head coaching position, something she won’t soon forget.
“Looking back, I’m so thankful of the relationships I’ve developed while coaching basketball,” she said. “And I think it’s important to keep in mind that being surrounded by good people is so important as well. That’s how I’ve gotten this far.
“I’m very excited for this next step, but at the same time I’m really going to miss a lot about Ryan. I’m so grateful for my time there. I don’t think it’s really hit me yet that I’m not the coach there anymore, it’s all so crazy still. But it will settle in eventually, and we’ll see where this takes me.” ••