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Amherst Regional hires Liz Kay as girls hoop coach

Liz Kay figured she’d coach her eighth and final year at Coventry (Conn.) High this winter before getting married next summer, moving to Worthington and then looking for a new coaching job.

Then the Amherst Regional girls basketball job opened up.

“Unless the perfect job came along, I was set on this probably being my last year, which was hard because we’ve had a lot of success and I had a great relationship with the AD and with the kids,” said Kay, 35, who teaches at Suffield (Conn.) Academy. “Amherst is such a great town and community. The college atmosphere, the great reputation of the high school, both as being supportive of academics and athletics, it was sort of the perfect environment.”

Kay was hired this week to take over the Hurricanes’ job after Christal Murphy resigned over the summer.

Kay coached seven years at Coventry, where her team went 7-13 in its first year and then reached the postseason in each of the following six years. Her team reached the state finals twice over that time.

“We had three of our girls (players) on the interview committee as well as a parent of a former player, teacher, a former coach,” athletic director Rich Ferro said. “It was a wide swath of the basketball community and it was a unanimous decision on her. She connected with the girls right away.”

Kay said she was drawn to what she’s heard about the Hurricanes dedication.

“I never want to have a team where this matters to me more than to them,” the Bates College alum said. “Obviously, talent comes and goes, but the work ethic aspect is what you want to have consistently. From what I have heard about Amherst, those kids worked their tails off.

“The kids care and everybody that I met, including three of the kids who were in the interview, they are gym rats. They are fired up and ready to go.”

The interview included some time in the gym and Ferro was impressed.

“You could tell her energy level was high and her commitment and passion for the game,” he said. “I think she’s going to be a perfect fit for us.”

Kay certainly isn’t new to being in a college town. She grew up in Durham, N.C., and Coventry is near the University of Connecticut. She has always been a huge basketball fan, especially of Duke — where her father and stepmother work — and tries to fly home each year for the North Carolina game at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

She described her coaching style as fair and straightforward.

“I treat the best player on the floor the same as the last kid on the bench,” she said. “I think it’s really important especially for high school girls that they know I care about them no matter what they can do on the basketball court.

“I’m not going to be all rah-rah if they don’t deserve it. You are always going to get the truth from me. Sometimes that hurts, but ultimately I think that’s what the kids that age want and crave. It’s a team-first, me-second type of mentality.”

Amherst, which went 99-35 and reached a state D-1 title game in six years under Murphy, has been a dominant force in WMass over the past few years. But this year’s team will be extremely inexperienced entering the year. Kay said she’s looking forward to the work of rebuilding the program.

“I told them not only do I not know what to make of you yet, but frankly the league won’t know what to make of you because they haven’t seen you yet,” she said. “We are all starting with a clean slate. It is going to be a very inexperienced group, but we are going to have good leadership from what I’ve seen.”

Jim Pignatiello can be reached at jpignatiello@gazettenet.com.

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