Take me home, country roads

MORGANTOWN – Liz Repella has gone home.

The 2011 West Virginia University graduate has returned to the Mountaineers’ women’s basketball program as a graduate assistant to work under head coach Mike Carey.

“Coach Carey called me when Madina’s GA was up and he asked me if I wanted to come back,” said Repella, who was teammates with Madina Ali. “I’ve always said I wanted to come back and the timing was right. He knows where my heart is.

“He knew I wanted to get my masters, too. I wasn’t going to pass this up.

“I’m happy to be back.”

And, like her four years at WVU, the school is picking up the tab for her graduate work.

“I feel so fortunate for them to be able to do that for me,” said Repella, who is pursuing a masters in athletic coaching and education. “I feel really lucky not to have any debt from college, like some of my friends have.

“I’m pretty blessed.”

Repella returns after a two-year stint as the assistant director of operations with the University of Michigan women’s basketball program.

She was an All-America standout for the Mountaineers as a four-year letterwinner from 2008-11. She earned back-to-back Capital One Academic All-America First Team honors by CoSIDA, becoming the first player to do so since Rosemary Kosiorek in 1991-92.

A two-time captain, Repella also earned All-Big East First Team accolades as a junior and senior while picking up second-team honors as a sophomore. Prior to her senior season, she was named to the WBCA State Farm Wade Trophy Watch List, was a Lowe’s Second Team All-American and earned honorable mention honors with the WBCA/State Farm Coaches’ All-America Team during her final season.

“I did a lot of behind-the-scenes things at Michigan,” she said. “It was a really cool job. As a player you get to see the playing side of things and see what the coaches do, but you really do not realize what goes into running a program. It’s been great to be on the side for the past two years.

“My time at Michigan was great. I appreciate everything that was done for me up there. I learned a lot.

“Everyone runs their programs differently, runs their practices differently. Some emphasize offense and some defense and it’s been really good to see how different coaches have different recipes for success.”

Repella worked under Michigan head coach Kim Barnes Arico, who spent 10 years as the head coach at St. Johns and coaches against Repella in the Big East.

“Both (Carey and Arico) are very intense on the court,” Repella said with a laugh. “They have a deep passion for the game. But, they aren’t just about making their players better on the court. They care about you being a better person off the court and they care about you and your families.

“I think that is one of the main reasons I have been drawn into this professional – how much you learn off the court from the coaches and how they are role models.

“You can watch a WVU game and follow coach Carey on the court and you cannot believe how different a person he is off the court. He really cares about you as a person.”

Repella also started to learn the rigors of recruiting.

“It was tough to recruit at Michigan because of the SAT and ACT scores,” she said. “I learned you have to look at the total person and I was able to see the total package.

“Every school has barriers to recruiting. Michigan has theirs because it can be hard to recruit there because of the weather. West Virginia has it because it’s out in the middle of nowhere. You get past those barriers with recruiting.”

After completing her playing career for the Mountaineers, Repella played a season of professional basketball for Federacion Espanola de Baloncesto in Ferrol, Spain. She earned All-Spanish LF2 Honorable Mention and All-Bosmans Team Spanish LF2 honors during her time overseas.

Repella graduated Summa Cum Laude from West Virginia in 2011 with a bachelor of science in exercise physiology, along with minors in exercise and sport psychology and business management.

The 2007 Steubenville Big Red graduate finished her career as the school’s all-time scorer – male or female, with 2,065 points.

“I will be in charge of practice players,” said Repella, who also commented how beautiful the new basketball practice facility is at WVU. “We get male students at WVU who come in and practice against the women. I will also be a part of on-campus recruiting – when recruits come to campus. I can’t do anything off campus.

“I will also do other duties assigned from coach Carey. I can’t do any on-court coaching.”

She got her first taste of WVU women’s basketball about a decade ago.

“My dad and I went to Ohio State when they were hosting an NCAA tournament game when I was in the eighth grade and WVU played against Ohio State,” Repella said. “I watched them then, but I really didn’t pay much attention because I didn’t have much interest in WVU at the time.”

The interest came during the summer before her senior season at Big Red when Repella joined an elite AAU team.

“Prior to being on that team, I didn’t have many D1 looks,” she admitted. “A lot of teams got on late.”

The player who started from Day 1 in high school and rarely saw the bench, came off the bench on that AAU team.

“It sounds really crazy, but I actually enjoyed it,” she said. “It was really good for me to watch the first few minutes of the game and see the flow and see how the game was being played. My coach said I was a spark coming off the bench.

“Doing that was really nice because it got me ready for college. When I got to WVU and did not play much and was coming off the bench, I transitioned very well.

“That AAU team was really good. It’s not like I was sitting behind duds. They were really good players. That team had played together for about four or five years. They had really good chemistry. So, I was the newbie and coming off the bench did not bother me at all.”

Repella had taken a trip to Cincinnati and Xavier before a heading to Morgantown.

“It was just me and my mom, it wasn’t a big visit,” she commented. “We saw a little bit of the campus and we talked to coach Carey. After we left I told my mom “I want to play for him.’ My mom said I couldn’t commit without my dad taking a visit. My dad went down a week later and basically saw what I saw.

“I went there basically because of coach Carey. I just took a liking to him.

“I had never seen him coach before I committed. He’s very up front with recruits. He tells them “I’m crazy on the court’ and he is. But, he’s very different off the court.

“I remember my first practice I missed a layup and he yelled ‘who recruited this girl?’ He just has no filter when he’s on the court. It takes the right person in his system. You need to know how to take him and I knew how to take him. He’s only doing that to push you. I knew right away how to take him.

“Right after that he came over to me and put his arm around me and said, ‘you weren’t that bad today. I was exaggerating.”

“We’ve had a lot of laughs.”

Repella, who led the Mountaineers in 12 statistical categories, started 102 straight games from the beginning of her sophomore year and played 1,173, 1,226 and 1,173 minutes, respectively, averaging just under 35 minutes a game. She averaged 6.5 rebounds an outing, totaled 181 steals and 73 blocks.

She appeared in 32 of WVU’s 33 games as a freshman, fourth-most by a newcomer in school history and averaged 10.8 minutes per game.

Repella earned All-Big East first-team honors for the second consecutive season, in addition to being named to the Capital One Academic All-America first team in back-to-back seasons.

She was a part of 96 victories as a Mountaineer and only 38 losses, amassing the most victories in a four-year career in program history. She has played in the most games of any Mountaineer in program history with 134, recording 3,917 minutes played, the fourth-most in program history.

“When you’re a senior in high school and you sign those papers who dream how it will turn out and that’s how it turned out for me,” she said. “You hope for that and it doesn’t always happen. I am fortunate that it happened for me.

“To have the success we had, go to three NCAAs and to maintain those relationships out of college, it’s been great.

“Never in a million years would I go to anther school than what i picked.”

Back for a month, Repella said all has been great.

“It’s nice to see familiar faces that I haven’t seen since I graduated,” she said. “The whole support staff is there and I got really close with them during my playing days.

“When I left Steubenville I never thought I would call another place home. Well, Morgantown is that for me. I am very fortunate and it’s great to be back.”