NEW PALESTINE — After running a two-hour session at her first summer basketball camp, Sarah Gizzi, New Palestine’s new varsity girls basketball coach, stood next to one of her camp assistants and a couple of players with an intent look on her face.
Gizzi, 40, of New Palestine, waved her hands, pointing at various places around the Sugar Creek Elementary gym while talking to the group about ways to make the rest of the camp more productive, better for players.
Always striving for the best, describes Gizzi, the all-time leading scorer in girls basketball program history. She’s always looking for opportunities to improve situations.
Running the camp for area girls of all ages is one of the many responsibilities Gizzi has taken as head coach.
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The Doe Creek Middle School math teacher is coming off a pretty good year. In May, Gizzi was named the Community School Corporation of Southern Hancock County Teacher of the Year. The announcement came after Gizzi landed the head coaching job for the Dragons in April, a position she wasn’t sure she’d ever have.
“It was not my long-term goal to coach at the high school level,” Gizzi said. “I really liked just being involved, helping out, assisting and coaching at the middle school level.”
When Brian Kehrt stepped down in the spring after four seasons coaching the varsity girls, Gizzi was the front runner for the job, and when asked if she wanted the position, she couldn’t pass it up.
Kehrt helped plant the seed for Gizzi to take over the program a few years ago, talking with her about one day leading the team, she said. But, the idea didn’t take root until Kehrt officially retired from coaching.
“That’s when I started really thinking about it and thought, ‘I have enough experience, but, it’s a huge undertaking, to be in charge,'” she said. “But, since I’ve always kind of had my hand in it anyway, it didn’t seem quite as daunting.”
Al Cooper, New Palestine’s athletics director, feels fortunate to have Gizzi as the girls head coach.
“She is a positive role model for our young ladies and someone who will lead our players to be better young ladies and first-class representatives of our community,” Cooper said in an email to the Daily Reporter.
Cooper knows Gizzi from her days as a player and student at New Palestine High School, and said she will teach much more than just basketball to the girls.
Cooper believes the future is bright for Dragons basketball taking a cue from Gizzi’s past.
Gizzi, formerly Sarah Haynes, was an Indiana All-Star at New Palestine during her senior year in 1994 when she also graduated as the school’s valedictorian.
Gizzi scored 1,172 career points and led the Dragons to two sectional championships and a Hoosier Heritage Conference title during her playing days, school officials said.
To say she knows all the ins and outs about the game would be an understatement.
Her husband, Mike Gizzi, played professionally overseas for 12 years and their son, Maximus Gizzi, was a standout player for the Dragons during his freshman year.
The couple’s other two children, Isabella, a Doe Creek Middle School seventh-grader and Julius, a fifth-grader in the district, also play the game.
Sarah and Mike Gizzi met while playing college ball at LaSalle University and are just two members of a big basketball family. Her brother played at Indiana State and Western Kentucky and both her parents coached the sport.
Her father, Bruce Haynes, is going to join her on the bench at New Palestine as one of her assistant coaches. He’ll join carryover assistants Chris Story and Nancy Workman to help coach the team.
Haynes was the high school boys basketball head coach from 1990-95. His experience, the carryover staff and the fact she played in the program will be a plus, Gizzi said.
“I think it’s going to be a really special group to sort of get things started,” she said.
The Dragons are coming off back-to-back 16-win seasons and went 17-7 last year.
Gizzi is hoping for another winning season her first year out. The biggest challenge will be replacing Raegan McMurray, who became the second 1,000-point scorer in school history in 2016-17.
The team has four returning starters and all but two of last year’s varsity players coming back.
“I think everyone should have high expectations,” Gizzi said. “We’ll have to have some girls step up, but that’s the fun of it, seeing who will be ready to play.”
Rest assured, Gizzi will be ready to coach, she said, noting the sky is the limit when it comes to what Gizzi thinks she and her players can accomplish.