New K-State women's coach has high hopes

3/25/2014

By ARNE GREEN

By ARNE GREEN

Special to the Telegram

Jeff Mittie envisions a day when his Kansas State women's basketball team is greeted each night by near-sellout crowds at Bramlage Coliseum.

"That's why I'm here," Mittie said Tuesday during an introductory press conference in Manhattan one week after he was hired as K-State's ninth head women's coach. "I want to walk out there where 8,000 people, 10,000 people care about Kansas State women's basketball.

"That's important to me and it has happened here before, and we're going to get people excited about this basketball team next year."

Mittie's job is to revive a K-State program that went 11-19 this past season with a second straight 5-13 mark in the Big 12. From 2001-02 to 2008-09 the Wildcats won at least 22 games all but one season and claimed two Big 12 titles under Deb Patterson, who was fired earlier this month after 18 years.

K-State athletic director John Currie left no doubt about the expectations for Mittie during his introductory remarks.

"His 22 seasons as a head coach featured nine conference championships in four different leagues, 454 total wins and 15 postseason appearances with a 16th to come next year," Currie said of Mittie, who spent three years at Division II Missouri Western - his alma mater - and four at Arkansas State before TCU, which last year joined the Big 12 from the Mountain West.

Mittie gladly accepted the challenge.

"I appreciate the postseason shout out for next year," he said with a smile. "That is absolutely the goal and I wouldn't have it any other way."

Mittie got his first up-close look at his new team during a pair of 30-minute workouts Monday but said that from observing the Wildcats the past season in the Big 12 allowed him to form some impressions as well.

"I have a good idea of what I want to do with this team already," he said. "I think because of coming from the league I already have a good idea of where I see this team going in the direction that we're going to go forward."

K-State was the youngest team in the Big 12 this past year and Mittie said he expects the Wildcats to take a step forward next season.

"I liked the young players in the program, and I liked the veterans in the program so I feel like we can do things quickly," he said. "I didn't come here to rebuild and have it be a long process."

Another factor for Mittie in taking the job was a return to his Midwest roots. He is a native of Blue Springs, Mo., and his wife Shanna is from Junction City and graduated from Chapman High School.

"We talked about the family things and coming back home," Mittie said. "That was a factor as well, but also that I want to get to the Final Four and win championships.

"I think the commitment is here to do those things."

Guard Kindred Wesemann, who started for the Wildcats as a freshman this season, said that Mittie made a good first impression.

"We are settled in and we really like this coach," she said. "He could be great for us.

"Working together and staying together is the big thing."

The former K-State staff signed three players to letters of intent last fall, and one already is committed to stay. Salina Central standout Shaelyn Martin confirmed Tuesday that she is on board.

"I really liked coach Mittie," said Martin, who met him last week during the NJCAA women's national tournament in Salina. "I'm really glad I got the chance to meet with him.

"I think things are going to work out great and I look forward to what's coming up next."

Martin said she was uncertain what the other two signees, 6-foot-3 forward McKenna Treece from St. Louis and 6-foot guard Lauren Mertz of Blue Valley Northwest, would decide. Mittie was noncommittal as well.

"We're still up in the air, so we're going through that process right now," Mittie said. "This all happened so quickly, but I think in the next week or so we'll have some answers there."

Mittie already is hard at work recruiting and said he will look to Kansas and the Midwest first, but that he will target top players nationwide. He mentioned strong recruiting connections in Texas, Chicago and Milwaukee.

The top recruiting priorities, Mittie said, are size across the board and improving the Wildcats' depth.

Mittie also said he has yet to finalize a coaching staff, though he will retain Claire Coggins, the director of basketball operations, and video operations director Tasha Dickey from the previous regime. He said Patterson assistant coach Shalee Lehning, a former Sublette High School all-stater and former K-State All-American, declined an offer to stay on.

Lehning led the Lady Larks to consecutive 26-0 Class 2A state championships in 2004 and 2005. She was named Miss Kansas Basketball in 2005.

In 2009, she was a second round draft choice by the WNBA's Atlanta Dream.

Since January of 2012, Lehning had been a full-time assistant coach, and one of the lead recruiters for the Lady Wildcats. She had retired from the WNBA after the 2011 season, when she suffered a torn ACL.

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