By Katharine Morgan CONTRIBUTING WRITER
---- — Former Cooperstown star Jen Wehner’s basketball career has been about the transition game. Now she is transitioning into college coaching.
Wehner ascended with awe-inspiring ease from a high school career to a record breaking college career at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.
This season she will begin a new career, pacing the sidelines at Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy as a women’s assistant coach.
One of her biggest challenges will be adjusting from working with teammates to working with her players.
As a player, Wehner acknowledges, “I never left the floor. I played all the way through the game, so putting people in and subbing them out is a completely new experience for me.”
She’s said she is getting better at it, but in the beginning, she remembers saying to herself, “oh wow, this is a lot harder than I thought.”
“She was always clicked in, always made eye contact with me, always was interactive signalling,” said CCS coach Mike Niles about Wehner, his 6-foot tall captain, who graduated in 2008. “Some basketball practice drills can be boring,” he admits, “but she was always focused. Completely engaged.”
Niles’ first year coaching at Cooperstown coincided with Wehner’s senior year.
“Jen came up to varsity halfway through her sophmore year. She was one of two top level forwards on the team that year,” he said.
“Jen is just tremendously athletic, and very aggressive on the court,” he added.
When asked how Wehner performed under pressure, Niles said, “during the season, Jen averaged about 14 points a game, post-season that number was more around 19. She rises to the challenge. She was impossible to guard, because I hardly ever ran plays with her. Jen had such dominating rebounding skills, she always provided her team with second chance points in the paint. Honestly, one of our best strategies was to have other teammates attempt a basket so Jen could get the rebound. That was one of her greatest skills, amazing rebounder.”
Wehner helped lead the Cooperstown girls to a Section Three title and their first state semifinal appearance.
At the time Niles was quoted in the Daily Star saying, “She can sort of translate it when I start yammering in coach speak.”
Clearly foreshadowing her new career, Niles continued, “Jen was a cconstant loud voice of enthusiasm for her teammates. I guess you could say she was obsessed in a good way. She approached basketball like a 24-hour-a-day job during the season.”
Now coaching really is Wehner’s job.
“When I was young, I played everything,” she said. “Mostly soccer. I didn’t start playing basketball until I played modified in school.”
It didn’t take much time, however, for Wehner to commit to a favorite sport. “Both soccer and basketball have their pluses, but basketball has more of a thrill, it’s more constant action,” she said. “Sometimes I would feel like I wasn’t moving around enough on a soccer field. Not the case in basketball.”
Playing in school soon led her to basketball camp at the University of Connecticut and a lifelong interest in the Huskies women’s basketball program.
“I idolized a lot of the players, but I guess Diana Taurasi was my biggest role model,” she said. “I liked that she was an all around player, really well balanced. I definitely wanted to achieve that kind of team play, and I think I did, in my years playing.”
If playing basketball has any bearing to coaching it, Wehner will, no doubt, continue her winning streak. Beyond her illustrious career at Cooperstown, Wehner went on to gain a long list of accolates at MCLA. She graduated with a degree in athletic training in 2012. As a senior, Wehner was named to the Division III All-American team, which was the first time in women’s basketball history an athlete from MCLA was named to the preseason All-American team.
Wehner was the team’s MVP for three years from 2010 to 2012 and finished with more than 1,000 points and rebounds in her college career.
“She has such natural athlelicism,” said Holly McGovern, the MCLA women’s coach. “Great awareness of where the ball is at every point during the game, leaving her able to use her body along with her teammates to maintain great defense.”
In 2011, Wehner was named the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference player of the year and led the Trailblazers to the NCAA tournament.
“Jen is the best shotblocker,” McGovern said before correcting herself, “no, frankly, Jen is the best player in MCLA women’s basketball history.”
McGovern said she is convinced Wehner’s talents will be just as valuable courtside.
“She’ll bring a lot of energy to her players,” McGovern said. “She will be able to recognize opposing strategies and will be able to effectively communicate the winning adjustments her team should make.”
McGovern emphasized how much Wehner will learn under RPI head coach John Greene. “His meticulous approach to the game and his experience will be extremely beneficial for Jen,” she said.
Wehner said her closeness to the game, and her youth, result in her, “actually showing the players what I mean, rather than telling them. Coach Greene laughs, because I finding myself just getting on the court and demonstrating what I want the players to do.”
She said she is learning to deal with all the personalities. On the upside, she said she is extremely appreciative of all she is learning from Greene. The practices and games are full of learning moments. “I thought I knew a lot as a player, but coaching is so different, just working with him is invaluable for me,” she said.
“I knew when we hired her, Jen would have the respect of the team,” Greene said. “I knew in addition to what I saw on the court, she had intelligence, enthusiasm and spirit. When I told my team who we had hired, they were excited. Quite a few of them had played with Jen in summer leagues, so they respected her basketball skills. They respected her basketball smarts.
“It’s always difficult to go from player to ex-player,” he continued. “All the focus of being a player is widened to that of being a coach. Jen has that ability to look at the game holistically. It’s going to sound like a cliche, but she seems to have that in her blood.”
As physically exhausting as her day job is, Wehner said she is no couch potato when it comes to time off. “I hate sitting around indoors,” she said. “I mean I enjoy watching movies and things, but I love being outdoors. I like hiking, camping, anything outside.”
Her favorite activity though is obvious: “pick up basketball with friends,” she said.
Lest anyone think Wehner is done with her time on the court, she said she is not. This month she went back to MCLA for its alumni game against the current team.
“It was a ton of fun. Just a ton of fun. I really miss it so much,” she said.
Wehner’s team won, as they usually do.
CCS and MCLA had her for years, now it’s RPI’s turn for a winner.