Incoming varsity head coach Lucas Fiorante hopes to continue the success the players have had already. Photo: Finn Christensen-McElroy '24
After years of cultivating a winning legacy at La Salle, former varsity girls basketball head coach Kelli Wedin stepped down from her position before the start of this year’s season, leaving current players hopeful for a continuation of the success they have had, rather than a brand new start.
Stepping into his new role as head coach and hoping to continue that success is Lucas Fiorante, who graduated from La Salle in 2010 and formerly coached basketball at Cleveland High School. Within this role, Fiorante is aiming to both continue Wedin’s legacy and make the transition as smooth as possible.
After a decade of establishing her impact on the varsity girls basketball team through her ability to create bonds between teammates and bringing home state championships, Wedin is “changing directions” and entering a new chapter of her life.
For 20 years, Wedin acted as a “stay-at-home mom,” coaching her three daughters — all of whom play or played collegiate basketball — at various points of their basketball careers. However, she now wants to focus on her own professional career and felt as though pursuing a full-time job required a full investment of her energy. “I kind of always told myself, ‘If I’m able to get a full time job, I can make it work and not be too overwhelmed with coaching as well,’” she said. “Unfortunately, everything didn’t line up together.”
Although the team was sad when they heard the news, according to senior Eva McCaffrey, it was somewhat understandable, as her youngest daughter graduated last year. That being said, the news did come as a surprise. “After we had a pretty successful summer season, it seemed like she was going to stay,” McCaffrey said. Over the summer, the team was coached by Wedin while competing in three tournaments, placing second in two of them, and winning the championship for the last. “So when she said she was leaving, everyone was pretty shocked.”
McCaffrey, along with most of the seniors on the varsity team, had Wedin as their coach for their entire time at La Salle thus far, and part of the shock resulted from the realization that their final year on the basketball team would be “different from the way it has been,” McCaffrey said.
Wedin started coaching the varsity team in 2012, leading the program to a total of three state championships in 2015, 2017, and 2019, as well as numerous tournament titles. “It definitely wasn’t anything that happened overnight,” Wedin said, and she credited the skilled coaches she worked alongside in addition to her understanding of what it was like to play basketball — both during high school and as a division I collegiate athlete — as factors that led to their success and the positive environment they cultivated.
Wedin and her coaching staff based everything around the team, focusing on getting to know players, creating an atmosphere committed to communication, valuing everyone, and making those involved “feel really good about whatever their role was in our basketball program — and not just as an athlete, but as a person too,” Wedin said.
Something Wedin emphasized was the importance of encouraging one another. During practices, teammates would always be cheering for each other; it was her way of ensuring that everyone would be like one big family. “She’s always had us getting closer as a team and I thought that really helped us throughout the season,” sophomore Ava Bergeson said.
Even during the holidays, players would spend time together. Last year, like they usually do during Christmas break, the varsity team took a trip to Las Vegas for a tournament, but they ended up getting stuck there due to snow. “We were together for a week straight, and after that it really helped,” Bergeson said. “If that didn’t happen I don’t think we’d be as close as we are now.”
Fiorante knows that the way he runs practices and games will be a transition from the way Wedin had the program structured. What he may call a drill during practice could be different from what the team is familiar with, but in the end, the objective is no different. “The more you are around it, the more you realize everyone’s doing a little bit of the same thing, just with different names,” he said. “And that’s already happened in our practices.”
This includes keeping the traditions formed by Wedin, which he understands are essential for members of the team. As an example, the varsity team went on their annual beach retreat, which took place in Lincoln City from Nov. 17 to Nov. 19.
Keeping traditions are vital to maintaining the bond players have had for years. The emphasis on connection — as well as the deep sense of community and winning culture resulting from Wedin’s legacy — became apparent to Fiorante when he came to the school prior to the start of the season.
“That’s something you don’t see in the articles and you don’t see on film,” Fiorante said. “But being in the gym just the last three weeks and meeting with the players and the returners, knowing how important the sisterhood is, and the culture they’ve built over the last decade has been something — I would almost say it’s unparalleled from all the schools I’ve seen,” he said.
Fiorante recognizes the similarities and differences between his and Wedin’s coaching styles and the foundation of success that stands under the feet of the players, but in order to continue on the path of what success looks like for everyone, there is a level of trust required between him and the team.
“Unfortunately, I’m coming in very close to the season,” he said. “And so we’re building that trust a lot faster than I would say the process would normally take.”
Having coached varsity girls basketball at Cleveland for six seasons, Fiorante comes from a place of experience. He explained at the time that Cleveland was where his connections started from, and mentoring there felt right. One of the biggest connections he had to Cleveland was his father, who was also a basketball coach, and later, the principal of the school.
From third to eighth grade, Fiorante was coached by his father. His father’s skill both as an athlete and a coach instilled a lot of motivation and values in him, such as empathy, understanding, and how to be tough on players without pushing them too far. Another person who led him to coach was Earl Clark, a Benson High School graduate and a head coach for La Salle boys basketball in the 2000s.
Both Clark and his dad were tough, and through that, Fiorante learned “what to do and what not to do,” Fiorante said.
Oftentimes Fiorante would have conditioning at six in the morning on a rainy day, where the team would run on the track until they threw up. “But there are lessons you could pull from it,” Fiorante said, explaining that if it weren’t for the toughness of his experiences, he wouldn’t have gained the insight or the empathy that he has now.
Overall, “the seeds were planted [at La Salle] for me to start coaching,” Fiorante said.
Coming back to La Salle has been both a nostalgic and exciting rollercoaster for Fiorante, as the school has been an integral part of his life and has called out to him since he left. “In the back of my mind, La Salle was always there, but when you have the stability that they’ve had for so long, you just don’t even think it’s a possibility,” he said. Moreover, Fiorante acknowledges the amount of success in the history of girls basketball at La Salle guided by Wedin.
“This is like coming back home, so it means the world to me,” he said. “I don’t take the responsibility lightly, and the players will know that I don’t take it lightly, because I value this place too much.”
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