During Becky Burke’s playing days at Abington Heights High School, she was one of the best players in the state.
Now, as the first women’s basketball coach at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona, Burke, 25, must find student-athletes to mold into successful players at the collegiate level.
“This is my first head coaching opportunity,” Burke said. “I’m focused on building this program and making it as successful as I can. I’m the same person as a coach as I was as a player. I’m very passionate, love of the game and bring high energy. I always give 100 percent whether I’m coaching or playing.”
Embry-Riddle will begin competing in the California Pacific Conference of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) in the fall of 2016.
According to Assistant Director of Athletics Jamie Long, an upgrade to the university’s facilities made adding a women’s basketball program a reality.
“We are currently finishing a $7 million renovation project that will allow three teams to play and practice,” Long said.
Burke is excited to be at the helm of this new opportunity.
“I have the chance to put my name on (the program) and have it run the way I want,” Burke said. “It’s an unbelievable university, academically, and the athletic department has been supportive with their resources and funds. They put you in position to be successful and that’s very exciting.”
Burke, selected as the Associated Press Pennsylvania Class 4A girls basketball player of the year as a senior in 2008, scored more than 2,000 points during her high school career.
The Clarks Summit native’s success on the court continued throughout her time at Louisville University when the Cardinals advanced to the national championship game in 2009 during her freshman season and she led the team in scoring during her sophomore and senior seasons.
Burke was also chosen to compete in the 2012 State Farm 3-Point Championship in New Orleans at the Final Four during her senior season. She finished in second place and enjoyed the experience.
“It was a great opportunity for me,” she said. “It was also a really fun time.”
According to Burke, the experience of playing basketball at Louisville led her to pursue a coaching career.
“My career was unbelievable,” she said. “We had an incredible fan base and I met so many people through playing the game on a national stage. It really made me love the sport even more and want to continue to be a part of it.
“Playing for a national championship is probably my greatest memory. There’s also the memories of grinding it out with teammates during practices and flying on chartered planes. Those are all memories I cherish.”
Burke credits Louisville women’s basketball head coach Jeff Walz for helping her ascend up the coaching ranks.
“He’s such a great coach and it’s great to be able to put his name on a resume,” she said. “He’s willing to pick up the phone and also make calls on my behalf.”
Burke previously served as the top women’s basketball assistant coach at Saint Joseph’s College in Indiana and Director of Basketball Operations at Cal State Fullerton.
“As director of Basketball Operations, I learned about the administrative side of coaching,” she said. “It’s everything I’m going to be doing now. As the top assistant at Saint Joseph’s, I was able to get a tremendous amount of experience. The head coach allowed me to have a voice in practices and put in ideas and plays.”
Burke, who was hired on June 30, is focused on finding the right mix of players to round out the team’s roster.
“I just need to get out recruiting, see who is interested, and get players here on visits,” she said.
Burke believes playing for a major Division 1 program just three years ago will help her make connections.
“I’m most looking forward to the relationships you form with the girls,” she said. “I have already experienced everything they will go through. I’ve been in their shoes and can be a role model for them. Being younger and having played at Louisville, I think gives me a better way to relate to the players.”