Hartzell bids farewell to the Ragdolls

After spend­ing the past five years as head coach of the Arch­bish­op Ry­an girls bas­ket­ball team, Jack­ie Hartzell has ac­cep­ted a po­s­i­tion at the Uni­versity of the Sci­ences. 

Thanks for the memor­ies: Hartzell, a 2001 gradu­ate of St. Hubert, won 78 games in five sea­sons at Ry­an. TIMES FILE PHOTO

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.” •• 

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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