Only a year after cleaning out her locker, Katelyn Loecker is moving into her new office.
For most new coaches, the first couple of days on the job are busily spent calling up recruits and returning players, filling out paperwork, and most of all, trying to keep from being overwhelmed.
Then again, those coaches have had experience doing it before, while making their bones for years bouncing from place to place until they finally get the big office.
Loecker went from graduating Oklahoma State to spending a year on the bench at the University of Saint Mary as a graduate assistant and now, at 23, being one of the youngest, if not the youngest, college basketball coach in the country.
In the minds of many Cowgirl fans, Loecker was the wiry 6-foot wing with the bruised knees, ankle braces and braided ponytail who always made the hustle plays.
That memory is still fresh as Loecker left Stillwater only last year after playing from 2013-17 in Gallagher-Iba Arena. However, to the players on the Spires’ squad, she is now Coach Loecker.
To the native of McPherson, Kansas, that is just a surreal feeling.
“It has been overwhelming in a good way with all the love and support that has been coming through,” Loecker said in a phone interview. “I have received so many text messages and phone calls, people through social media are reaching out and I have been trying to make sure I thank everyone.”
Loecker, who graduated from OSU with a Bachelor’s degree in health education and promotion with a minor in sports management, was officially named the coach Tuesday, capping a whirlwind year.
After leaving Stillwater, where she was a captain her senior year and made the Academic All-Big 12 team all four seasons, Loecker went back to the Sunflower State to take a graduate assistant position at USM in Leavenworth, Kansas.
There, under former coach Bruce Erickson, Loecker flourished. Erickson, who used to be the director of operations at OSU nearly a decade ago before getting back into coaching, allowed Loecker to come into her own as a coach instead of micromanaging her.
“(Erickson) allowed the assistant and I to have a lot of responsibility,” Loecker said. “I think that, in itself, prepared me so much for what this job entails and what it’s about. He allowed us to coach the practice, he allowed us to do film and scouting reports. He allowed us to take care of conditioning and weights. There are so many different things that he helped guide us but also let us be on the reigns a little bit. He knows that both of us are young coaches and the more experience we can get, the better.”
Loecker was on the bench as the Spires turned in an 18-12 record, including a 14-8 mark in the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference, the same conference her hometown college of McPherson is in.
With Leavenworth being only about 200 miles from home, Loecker said that is a plus with starting her coaching career at USM.
“I am a huge family person. It is going to be nice that my parents are only a few hours away,” Loecker said. “We play McPherson College, Tabor, Friends, Bethany and they are all very close to my parents. I am excited that they will be able to come to a lot of games. … It’s always nice to be back in your home state and I feel like I have connections through the state that will help me.”
Although she won’t turn 24 until August, Loecker said she is confident in her coaching ability. After playing the game for most of her life, taking a leadership role in college, and even attending a national coaching conference, she believes she is ready.
Whereas many of the visiting fans might think she is a player because of her age, Loecker said her players know that while she might be a few years older than them, she is the coach.
“That was one thing I really tried to set a boundary with last year,” Loecker said. “It was funny because some of my players really think I’m older than I am, which is kind of a cool thing because I wanted to be there for them if they ever needed to come talk to me but also feel like there is a boundary there. We’re not going to cross this line, I’m your coach and they bought into that. Some of the seniors, they weren’t that younger than me, but they listened ot me and would always come to me for guidance. I think with my background of playing for Oklahoma State, I think that helps.”
Loecker said she struggled with the pressure initially before getting the call because of her age, but after hearing so much goodwill and support from former teammates, coaches such as Jim Littell and her players, she has the confidence to seize the reigns and head into the job full steam ahead.
“I have always been a student of the game and always been someone to ask questions like, ‘Why do we do this? How do we do that?” I have always been that way,” Loecker said. “I feel that I’m ready and I know there are going to be challenges and a lot of things that I don’t have experience in. I know that I can do it and I know that if I can go to someone for guidance, I have so many people here in my corner.”
When Loecker called the returning players, who are at home since the NAIA doesn’t require them to be at the school in the summer, they were excited. One player even said she was ready to call her trainer and get back into the gym to start playing for Loecker.
Despite still adjusting to the newness of the position, Loecker believes she has a lot of qualities that are going to make for a strong start to her regime – mainly her basketball IQ.
“I think some of my strengths are knowing the game and being able to teach the game,” Loecker said. “I feel like I can relate to the players because I have been in their shoes not too long ago. I feel like I can talk to them and be able to develop relationships. I would hope they would be able to respect me and the players this last year, they knew that. I loved them to death and there are times I would get on them, but they knew I cared about them. They know that when I am hard on them, there is a reason for it. My work ethic, I think that is a big factor, especially as a young coach.”
A defensive stalwart and rebounding specialist in college, Loecker said she doesn’t know what she wants her coaching identity to be yet. She has started to think about it, though, and added it to the long list she has been working on since Tuesday.
“I think it depends on the type of kids you have and the type of players because you don’t want to throw your players into a type of system where they aren’t going to be successful,” Loecker said. “Once I get everyone here on campus, that is when I will start making decisions. I definitely have some ideas of where I want the program to be in terms of what we run defensively and offensively. But as of right now, I am taking baby steps and we will see when they are all here on campus.”
As for now, she will keep taking calls and unpacking boxes, thankful for the opportunity that many her age can only dream of. As for school, Loecker is continuing to work on her education as well, looking to attain her Master’s in business administration.
“It has been amazing and it has helped my confidence even more in terms of taking this position and knowing that people really believe in me,” Loecker said. “Not that I doubted myself, but having that reassurance that people believe that I can do this and I know can.”