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Ivansheck brings local relevance and a victory to Coast Guard

By Mike DiMauro

Publication: The Day

Published November 16. 2012 4:00AM

New London - It was just the way Alex Ivansheck drew it up Thursday for her coaching debut at Coast Guard Academy. Some Coast Guard blue in the ensemble? Check. Voice in full throat? Check. Clipboard and pithy pep talk? Check.

Now if they'd only allowed her on the base.

No, really. This was late afternoon Thursday. Ivansheck had everything she needed to lead the women's basketball Bears into a new era except her Coast Guard identification. And they wouldn't let her on campus. It left her two options: Holler instructions at loud intervals from Route 32 or drive to Mr. G's, park the car and wait for a ride from assistant coach Keyokah Mars-Garrick.

Ivansheck learned the hard way what they all do Coast Guard: sooner or later, everyone ends up at Mr. G's.

Ivansheck, 29, is home again, a graduate of Norwich Free Academy, back in our corner of the world. And her Bears are but four wins short of last season's total. Already. They defeated Mitchell 76-36 before a nice crowd at Merriman Gym, illustrating, if nothing else, the power of inclusivity.

You want inclusive? You hire three coaches of local origin. Ivansheck: Salem. Mars-Garrick: North Stonington. Colleen (Smith) Hardison: Windham. And darn, if the faces in the crowd didn't feature a few more locals, surely fortifying an objective of academy superintendent Rear Adm. Sandra L. Stosz: be "locally relevant."

You want inclusive? You ask each player to invite a faculty member to the game. Genius, really. Because you either complain about the Berlin Wall that divides athletics and academics or you knock it down, one souvenir chunk at a time.

"It's almost been better here than I was expecting," Ivansheck said. "Everyone's been great, friendly, helpful. I'm not the type of person who felt the need that I had to be in Connecticut. The most important thing was the finding right fit and working for an administration I felt was supportive and heading in the right direction.

"From the first conversation with Mr. (Tim) Fitzpatrick (Coast Guard's athletic director), I could see myself working for him," Ivansheck said. "One of my players asked why I came here. Speaking with Mr. Fitzpatrick, I could see myself here. When I came for my interview, my lunch with (junior) Larla (Brown) and (junior) Kaitlin (Ward) sealed the deal. I felt a connection."

Ivansheck's hardwood education is to be envied. One of her old AAU coaches, Bill Reagan, the girls' basketball coach at East Lyme High, was at the game Thursday. She played for Bill Scarlata, perhaps the best girls' high school coach in Connecticut, at NFA. She played with Marci Glenney, Saona Chapman and Krista Rappahahn there.

"I can even go back to when I was 11. I can throw out the name (former AAU coach) Lonnie Bailey," she said. "Starting with him, I learned so much. At NFA, I wasn't necessarily throwing up the points. But I took more joy in shutting players down.

"Marci was a senior and I was a freshman," Ivansheck said. "My role in practice that year was to guard her. What freshman gets to guard the top player in Connecticut going to UConn? I loved it. I bought into it."

It appears the Bears are buying in to their new coach, too.

"I don't want a bunch of players who have to be told to make this cut and that screen," Ivansheck said. "And I hate messy basketball. I want a team that knows how to play. This season is going to be about finding a balance between being demanding and encouraging, showing them I have confidence in them."

And so now the Bears practice today and play at Johnson & Wales on Saturday. Maybe Ivansheck can continue the tradition to park at Mr. G's. She's 1-for-1 at her new job.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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