Passion for the Hoops- Katie Meier's Journey Toward the Name 'Coach'
April 9, 2007
By Jessica Clawson
Editor’s Note: Jessica Clawson is a student in the University of Miami sports writing class taught by Michelle Kaufman, a sports writer for the Miami Herald.
Coral Gables, Fla. (www. hurricanesports.com) – – The school bell rings and kids scatter to rush home. In one driveway of Wheaton, Illinois, the sounds of a spontaneous basketball game could be heard. They were tough, hard fought games in a household where everything was a competition. Born out of this daily after-school routine was not only a future record breaking basketball player, but a woman who lives and breathes the game she has come to love–a woman the University of Miami community calls “Coach Meier.”
“I grew up two blocks away from [Katie] and spending most of my days with her family. We played in the driveway everyday and we didn’t take it easy on her. That is when she learned to be tough,” explained Rob Kroehnke, a Wheaton native who was best friends with two of Meier’s older brothers.
As the youngest of eight children, four sons and four daughters, Katie Meier never ran out of people to challenge, regardless of the event.
“There was always a game of some sorts at my house. We’d make a game out of eating Oreo cookies. We did whatever we could to compete. Whatever to make a competition or a contest, we did it. There was always a ball or something to do,” said Meier.
Raised in a town she likened to “where Beaver Cleaver grew up,” Wheaton is home to over 55,000 residents, but not many basketball hoops on the playgrounds. After losing her father at a young age, Meier sought inspiration from a man she never knew and from her brothers who shared the same appetite for sports.
From the beginning of her career as a Wheaton High Tiger Meier flexed her athletic prowess through basketball, softball, and volleyball. Under the direction of Rich Jarom, Meier shined as a break out leader for the Lady Tigers basketball team.
“Katie was a very versatile player. She probably played at all five positions at one time or another. Everyone who played with her on that team looked up to her. She led by example with her hard work, and encouraged the other players on the team quite a bit throughout the year,” said Jarom, who is now retired and living in Georgia.
During her senior year in 1985, Meier and the Tigers went to the finals of the Illinois High School Association State Championships. Meier’s 13 points was not enough to save her team from a crushing 63-37 defeat against Chicago’s Marshall High. At the end of the state tournament Meier recorded 47 points and 38 rebounds earning her a spot on the All-Tournament team.
“Katie was a well-rounded leader who was athletically smart. She got everyone involved in the game and the second-place finish was the ultimate prize after four years of hard work,” said Lori Kramer, one of Meier’s teammates and friends from Wheaton.
With several collegiate athletic opportunities in front of her, Meier decided to become a Duke Blue Devil. Meier found herself on Debbie Leonard’s squad at the beginning of the Blue Devils’ rise to top. Just a year before, Christine Moreland had become the first ever female Duke player to receive the ACC Rookie of the Year honor. Meier and Moreland had an instant connection on the floor.
“We complemented one another very well. I was the inside player, she was the perimeter player. If I was on under the basket and she got doubled teamed she would pass the ball down to me. Once they started to double team me I would shoot the ball out to her. We worked well together and teams had a difficult time covering both of us when we were on. And we were typically always on,” said Moreland. The dynamic duo was dubbed “M & M” for the next three years as they worked alongside one another.
“Katie injected a lot of energy and enthusiasm into the team, kind of like a spark plug, that just inspired the team. She is a really intense player and once she was on the court she gave it 110% every night,” shared Moreland.
Meier’s impressive career with the Blue Devils culminated in an average of 16.2 points per game along with a total of 1,761 career points. Following in Moreland’s footsteps she was awarded ACC Rookie of the Year in 1986 and followed it up her senior year with the Team’s Most Valuable Player honors. Meier’s collegiate career was not as fast paced and easy going as it may seem. Thirteen games into a perfect season her junior year Meier blew out her knee placing her on the sidelines for the rest of the season.
“It was kind of a bummer that she wasn’t out on the floor with me my senior year. But she took the injury in stride because it was part of playing the game. She has a great attitude, a great overall perspective, and of course she wanted to be out on the floor playing,” said Moreland.
Duke’s 13-0 team was devastated by the loss of Meier as the Blue Devils went on to lose 12 of the following 17 games. Meier was able to recover and come back for a stellar senior year that landed her on the All-ACC First Team and named a Kodak/WBCA District 2 All-American. These accolades resulted in Meier becoming one of the first five Duke Women Basketball players to be inducted into the Blue Devil’s Hall of Honor in 2002.
With the WNBA not an option for Meier, as the professional league for women was not created until 1996, she headed overseas after college. While playing for the BBC Mini-Flat Waregem in Belgium she experimented with idea of coaching.
“I wasn’t sure I was going to coach. I thought it was very stressful and draining, and maybe I was a little too emotional for it. When I went overseas to play professionally they asked to coach a little team of 15 year olds, and I loved it,” explained Meier. “All week while I was playing I would think about my team. I was like `I can’t wait to coach.’ I loved coaching more than when I played professionally.”
From there Meier eased into coaching by starting off with assistant coaching jobs at UNC-Ashville and Tulane. Finally in 2001 Meier was offered a head coaching job at UNC-Charlotte.
Prior to her arrival at Charlotte the 49ers had made only one previous post season appearance over a decade before. In her second she not only led the 49ers to an NCAA tournament berth but also a Conference USA Championship. Her talent and enthusiasm for building programs brought Charlotte to the main stage of women’s collegiate basketball. In four years Meier accumulated a .628 winning average after going 76-45 with three postseason berths for a team that was virtually unknown when she arrived.
Meier’s ability to rejuvenate a basketball program brought her to the University of Miami in 2005. As evidence of her leadership, Meier brought the Hurricane’s team up to a 17-13 record and a second round appearance in the NIT in her first year. Miami standout Tamara James also made waves leaving the “U” as the sixth selection of the WNBA draft. The current Washington Mystics member is the sixth player who has gone from Coach Meier’s program to the WNBA.
Meier’s second season was plagued by injuries that eventually narrowed the roster down to eight players. In the end the Hurricanes failed to make the postseason finishing 11-18.
“We have a lot of respect for the Miami program. We know Katie Meier and we know she is a great coach. We know what a great job she does here and will do in the future. She is here building. You take a lot of knocks and bumps when you are doing that. I think she does it with a lot of class,” said Kay Yow, N.C. State Head Coach after her team’s victory over the Hurricanes on February 24.
With all the ups and downs of the season Coach Meier’s encouragement of her players never ceased.
“Coach Meier is positive and motivating. She is the type of person that encourages you everyday. Everyday it’s like you can do this. We need you. I remember, after a bad practice, she pulled me aside said `you’re too valuable to check out.’ She lets you know that we can’t afford you to take a day off because everyone is important to this team,” said senior Amy Audibert prior to her final home game.
Regardless of win-loss records and aside from her accomplishments as a player, Coach Meier lives to teach her players more than just the game of basketball. Encouraging them at every step of the way Meier never stops looking for ways to motivate her players. From signs on her office door to a private pep talk during a time out, Meier tries to live up to one of the many lessons her family has taught her.
“Be true to who you are,” explains Meier. “There is so much on you as a head coach and there’s so many people looking at you to see how you react. It’s not about your emotions; it’s about what they need from you. Before I was in charge of the attitude, the environment, and the culture of a team, I wanted to make sure that I would be true to that statement. If they need me to kick them in the butt I will gladly do it. But sometimes, when I want to kick them in the butt, they need me to be positive and I have to recognize that, and have it be about them.”
While Coach Meier will continue teaching her lessons next season she has already shown her players and fans the passion she has for the game of hoops. A game that brought her from Wheaton to Miami with stops all around the world. A game that has just begun for a young, energetic coach with talented players hungry for a taste of her knowledge.