As a basketball player Katie Meyers was always a girl on the go, showcasing her considerable all-court game during stops as an All-State player at Lyons Township High School and in college at Evansville University (Ind.) and Eastern Illinois University. Off the court, her personal journey has included a recently completed 10-day trip out to the scenic U.S. western states and a previous visit to Costa Rica.
Meyers’ biggest move to date though will occur this school year when the 29-year-old slides one seat over as the new Lyons Township girls varsity basketball head coach, replacing her mentor Dawn Schabacker. Previously an assistant for Schabacker the last four years, Meyers carries hybrid emotions of excitement and surprise regarding her self-described “once in a lifetime opportunity.”
“When I was offered the job, I was near tears because I was so happy,” Meyers said. “Having the opportunity to be a head coach especially at LT has always been my ultimate goal. It’s really a dream come true.”
At the same time, Meyers paid tribute to Schabacker, endearingly known around the LT program as “Schaz.”
“Schaz brought success and tradition to LT girls basketball,” Meyers said. “No one had a clue that Schaz was going to step down as the coach. I’ve always been loyal to her and her program. It was a shock to me when I heard of her decision.”
During a stellar 20-year run as the Lions’ head coach, Schabacker compiled a 366-247 record (.597 winning percentage). She also guided LT to four appearances downstate (1992, 1993, 1996 and 1999), four West Suburban (Silver) Conference, five sectional and 12 regional championships. Meyers was a key player on the LT ’96 and ’99 state tournament squads, the latter winning a school-record 30 games in a single season.
“My senior year we lost to Lincoln in the [Class AA] state quarterfinals,” said Meyers, who averaged 13 points that season. “We beat Lincoln by 20 points during the regular season.”
Although the Lions are coming off a disappointing 9-18 record, the first-year head coach is committed to restoring LT’s standard of success with some tweaks.
“With great respect to our tradition, this feels like a new era and fresh start for LT girls basketball,” Meyers said. “We plan on playing a fast paced game by getting out in transition and applying pressure with hard nosed defense.”
Fortunately, Meyers has the right personnel to employ this up-tempo brand of basketball. Despite their disappointing debut at the varsity level last season, the Lions’ returning senior class did post a 21-0 record as sophomores.
“Our returning group is incredibly strong,” Meyers said. “A lot of them have been playing together since 6th grade and they played club basketball together this summer. I know they are willing to give everything they have to make the program work.”
Returning starters Lindsay Esposito and Danielle Beck will lead a deep rotation also featuring Colleen Connors, Riley Donovan, Hannah Drogosz, Kelly Bastyr, Kamey Murphy, Samantha Yelnick and Daja Lester. Sophomore 5-foot-11 forward Ashanti Davis is a player to watch with huge upside.
The new look Lions reflect a conference-wide trend in which six new head coaches and an influx of new players came on the scene last season.
“It’s an exciting time in the West Suburban Silver,” Meyers said. “Our conference has so much tradition, yet we have so many new coaches with their respective styles of basketball. I think the game is really evolving with all the new coaches and players.”
For all her unbridled enthusiasm, Meyers is fully aware of the complexity of becoming a head coach. Way beyond X’s and O’s, the Burr Ridge native must oversee the entire basketball program while building relationships within the community.
“The adjustments from assistant coach to head coach are dramatic,” said Meyers, who now lives in Brookfield. “I’ll be making split second decisions during in-game adjustments. Luckily, I’ll have a very knowledgeable coaching staff with me.
Lauren Sirus, Katie Hochberg, Kelly Neidig, Gretchen Clay and Bryan Bergman will join Meyers on the staff this year.
“Of course, getting the community involved also is really important,” Meyers added. “My staff and I will be out there visible at summer camps and in the community. We want young players coming up to know about LT basketball and to recognize me as the head coach.”
If Meyers needs a “transitional” template, perhaps all she has to do is review the LT boys basketball team’s recent rise back to prominence. In only his second year replacing LT coach Conte Stamas, Tom Sloan coached the Lions to a 26-2 record last season. Despite a 65-35 sectional final home loss to eventual state champion Simeon, LT boys basketball games are once again a hot ticket in town.
“Yeah, the boys team was really good [last season],” said Meyers with a laugh. “Our goals are similar. We want to win conference and tournament titles. Ultimately, we want to advance in the playoffs as one of the final eight teams with a chance to win a state championship.”
Considering the spotlight will be on Meyers this winter sports season, the adventurer by nature wisely got away for a brief respite this summer.
“I called my vacation a ‘Great Western Adventure,” she said. “I spent some time in Montana, Wyoming, and visiting Yellowstone and Glacier [National] Parks. I’m not necessarily an outdoors person, but I need fulfillment during my vacation.”
While mountain climbing one day Meyers came face to face with a ram. Standing near a 1,000 foot cliff, Meyers took a few photos of the camera-shy animal.
“I always thought of that animal as a big horned sheep,” said Meyers with a laugh, “but now I know why they call it a ram.”
Fear not LT fans, your new head coach escaped her “Into the Wild” adventure unscathed by any wildlife.
“It was actually a relaxing, incredible vacation,” she said. “I recharged my battery and I’m ready to go.”
Meyers hopes her Lions do the same this season in the West Suburban Silver.