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For weeks, months even, the Pirates wondered who their head coach would be.
It turns out five-time defending Portage Trail Conference County Division champion Southeast will be led by a familiar face: Jenny Gamertsfelder, who was board approved at Monday night’s meeting.
With the promotion of Melinda Furr’s top assistant from last year, the Pirates maintain continuity even as they play for their third coach in three years. Furr was longtime coach Bob Dunn’s top assistant before taking over and leading Southeast to its first district championship game appearance last year. Now, the line continues, as the Pirates once again stayed in house.
“They were all so excited,” Gamertsfelder said of her meeting with the team. “Things change so much for high-school girls. I think they were just excited to have continuity.”
Rising sophomore Hannah Schill said she felt a pang of relief when Gamertsfelder told the team she would be their next head coach. Schill not only played for Gamertsfelder as a freshman, but the year before when Gamertsfelder was the eighth-grade girls coach, and the year before that when Gamertsfelder was the seventh-grade coach.
“We were all filled with so much excitement,” Schill said. “Everyone was holding their breath, and then she told us, and we were all like, ‘Oh, it’s all going to be alright.’”
Though this is Gamertsfelder’s first head-coaching gig, she will have plenty of experienced coaches nearby, including Dunn, the Southeast superintendent as a reference when needed, and Dean Dunlavy, the veteran Pirates girls soccer coach who will serve as her top assistant. She said Dunn was the first person to congratulate her, followed by a “really good conversation about basketball and coaching.” Dunlavy, she said, is someone she clicked with from day one, as she assisted him in soccer and both coached middle school girls basketball.
“We have a really good working relationship,” Gamertsfelder said. “We see eye-to-eye on almost everything. We evaluate players the same. It’s almost at a point, where in soccer and basketball, it’s almost like a competition of who can say the right thing first.”
While she has never led a basketball team before, Gamertsfelder has spent the bulk of her life on a court, field or even in the pool, where she took swim classes as a baby. Her hardest high-school decision wasn’t AP Government or AP European History, but softball or track. She chose track, which she ran at Mount Union, specializing in the 400 hurdles. It wasn’t a bad choice, but if she had chosen to play softball at Hudson, she would’ve competed on a state champion.
“I just am a sports girl. I love sports,” Gamertsfelder said. “I was able to find a certain kind of confidence on the field and it overflowed into other aspects of my life, in terms of making friends, being confident and having a sense of independence and this strong woman feel.”
She assisted at Hudson, coaching track, before moving to Southeast. She said the biggest difference as she becomes a head coach for the first time will be switching from talking to listening. As an assistant, she said she was always providing “little pieces of advice.” Now, she’ll be listening to those pieces of advice — and making decisions.
For Schill, Gamertsfelder’s youth and “sports girl” persona are major pluses. She described a coach who can be both hilarious and intense.
“She’s super fun to be around. She’s young and fun and she gets us,” Schill said. “She understands us completely, because she’s so young, she lived it not too long ago.”
And for a team that already has to replace longtime leaders Danielle and Riley Norquest, having a familiar face at the top might be the most important part. Gamertsfelder noted she has coached everyone on the team, thanks to her time with both the middle schoolers and the high schoolers.
“The cool part is that there isn’t going to be a girl in the gym that I haven’t coached,” Gamertsfelder said.
She said she “can’t say everything is going to be the same,” but at the same time she isn’t “going to try to fix something that isn’t broken.” She said it would be the same Southeast — with a “little twist.”
“People have put a lot of time into making this program what it is,” Gamertsfelder said. “I’m going to absorb it and maybe (add) a little twist.”
Which, Schill said, was music to her and her teammates’ ears.
“We all took a sigh of relief, because she’s been in the program and there wouldn’t be major changes,” Schill said. “That was one of the major things we were nervous about. We were super nervous about someone coming in and completely changing what we had.”