Owens eager to ‘give back’ and build UPB women’s basketball program

Kaserra Owens talks to her team during a timeout in a game at the KOA Arena last year. The Bradford native was named the Panthers’ permanent head coach last week. 

 

Success has followed Kaserra Owens wherever she’s gone on the basketball court.

At Bradford Area High School, Owens was the leading scorer on a pair of Lady Owls teams that went 45-4 and won two District 9 titles in 2012 and 2013. She finished her high school career with 1,020 points.

Moving to a court crosstown as a key player at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, Owens was a four-year starter for the Panthers, totaling 900 points, 503 rebounds and 197 assists. She helped UPB to 66 wins and reached the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference playoffs in all four seasons, teaming up with former BAHS star Ali Rinfrette to earn a trip to the 2016 conference championship game.

Now, after serving one year as an assistant coach after graduating from UPB in 2017 and last season as the school’s interim head coach, Owens will hope to find that success again as a head coach. She was named the program’s permanent coach — the eighth in school history — after a national search ended last week.

“Coming into the season, I knew the (hiring) process would start as soon as the year was over,” Owens explained. “Bret (Butler, UPB Athletic Director) did a good job of keeping me informed. The waiting game was hard and there was a huge gap in between things and this was all a first for me going through the process.”

That process took much longer than usual because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the athletics staff working remotely, but in a way that made the call that she had gotten hired for the job all the more gratifying.

“I am grateful for another opportunity from this university to continue to grow as well as provide my players with some of the same opportunities I have had in my time here,” Owens said in a university release announcing her hiring. “Pitt-Bradford and this community have given me so much, I hope to use this position as a chance to give back to both.”

IN A word, Owens says that the transition from playing to coaching was “different.” She began her coaching career as an assistant under Sharay Hall for the 2018-19 season. But when Hall left for a job at Division-I Colgate University, it was Owens — a 24-year-old just two years removed from her college graduation — that was asked to guide the D-III Panthers.

“I loved that I played (at UPB) and I think that was an advantage for me in knowing people and having a familiarity,” she said. “Also having that one year of experience allowed me to to see some of that transition from coaching to playing.”

Owens also said that she leaned heavily on some veteran coaches for advice — especially on how to navigate some of the inner workings of being in charge of a program. Specifically, Owens said that she has spent a lot of time with former UPB coach Sean Brown, who coached Owens during her junior and senior seasons before moving over to coach the men’s team.

“He’s been a tremendous mentor and a big help for me as a hoops coach and as a person,” Owens said. “He’s the one who said to me that I’d be coaching someday. He said, ‘I see your passion and love and how you love your teammates and I see you being able to coach a team one day.’ I said ‘no,’ but here I am.”

OWENS’ season as interim head coach was certainly a trying one. The Panthers lost their first seven games of the season by an average of 28 points and finished with a 3-22 record. But there were bright spots, as well, as the team strung together back-to-back league wins in December and played much more competitive basketball as the season went on.

“We were a much better team than what our record says,” Owens asserted. “We grew tremendously whether it says so in the wins and losses column or not.

Owens grew as a coach as the season went along, too.

“I was learning just as much as the team was,” Owens said.

Even though some of the more mundane duties are listed in the job description, it’s still a learning curve to face them on the court or in the locker room in real time.

“There was a lot that I had to learn for the first time,” Owens said. “Breaking down game film was a big thing and there was a lot of X’s and O’s stuff — I reached out to some of my mentors and other coaches for help with that.

“And then recruiting. That’s a big tool for college basketball and I had to really learn how to do that.”

LIKE college coaches all across the country, Owens faces a good deal of uncertainty over the next couple of months. She hasn’t been able to take any trips to visit recruits in-person, but she has used a multitude of online resources to connect with prospective students and chat with them virtually.

So before she can truly begin focusing on a rotation or on scouting AMCC opponents, she’s just hoping that the 2020-21 season starts on time.

“I hope that we actually have a season,” Owens said. “I hope that we can come back to campus and have a season with whatever that may look like. There’s been talks about coming back in the fall and how that will be.”

Once that happens, Owens will begin her quest of rebuilding the program — which lost three seniors, but return several leading scorers — back to the conference powerhouse that went to the postseason in four straight seasons when she wore the uniform herself

“I’m excited to get back and start building knowing that now it’s not just a one year thing,” Owens said. “I want to build the program with returners and freshmen and transfers who understand what we are doing.

“I look forward to building and growing the program.”

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