It wasn’t long ago that Carissa Sain, who is beginning her second season as an assistant women’s basketball coach, was sporting a Carnegie jersey, and dreading the thought of traveling to frigid Chicago to play in the gloomy gymnasium at Crown.
Now, four years after graduating from Carnegie, where she was a three time All-UAA selection and finished sixth in the Tartans’ career-scoring ranks, Sain spends most of her working day down the block from Crown, in the Maroons’ spiffy Ratner digs.
As it turns out, working and coaching for her former UAA rival isn’t far from what the former Tartan hoped for. Even when she was playing, Sain knew that she wanted to be involved in basketball once her time in the starting five was over.
“Probably around my junior or senior year, I realized that I didn’t want to ever have basketball not be part of my life or what I was doing,” Sain said. “And I’m pretty happy with how it worked out.”
Pleased as she is to be in Chicago, adjusting to life as a Maroon has been jarring at times, and never more so than during Sain’s first trip to Pittsburgh as a visiting opponent. That was last January, for a game the Maroons won convincingly, 66–38.
“It was the weirdest experience I have ever gone through,” Sain said. “It was exciting to go home; it was nerve-racking to play them. I remember waking up on Saturday and just being totally exhausted—not for any other reason other than I was emotionally drained from everything. I’m looking forward to it being not so weird this year.”
Sain’s memories of Chicago from her playing days aren’t exactly warm and fuzzy, but she said she recognizes something of her alma mater in her new school and its students.
“I hated coming here to play because it was always so cold and I hated Henry Crown,” Sain said. “The first three years I played, I would say that we were pretty comparable to U of C. We were both playing kind of in the middle of the league. When we would play here I would just pick up a school newspaper and read it and it seemed like the student body was very comparable to what we had at Carnegie Mellon in a lot of different ways. I thought it was the school most like Carnegie Mellon, more so than some of the other schools in the UAA.”
During her fourth and final year, Sain actually played against the Maroons’ other assistant coach, Korry Schwanz (A.B. ’07), who was one of the top guards in Chicago history. But, Sain says, any rivalry there has dissipated since the two have been working the same bench.
After graduating, Sain stayed on at Carnegie as an assistant, coaching players that had, until recently, been her teammates.
“I coached at least a couple players I had played with as well,” Sain said. “It’s a hard thing to adjust to. My dad was my high school coach so I grew up knowing that relationship. It’s the same kind of carryover, when we were on the floor; I was able to be their coach. Off the floor, there were some new boundaries. You just kind of put up your limits, but I had an idea of how to do that based on the way that I grew up. It was difficult, but I think it was probably more difficult for them than it was for me.”
Gerri Seidl, the head coach at Carnegie throughout Sain’s time there, was actually the person who suggested she think about the Chicago job.
“She’s the one that pointed me in the direction of this job, and I can’t thank her enough for that, because I absolutely love it here,” Sain said.
After four years playing and three years coaching at Carnegie, Sain said she was ready for a new job in a different setting.
“On paper maybe it seems like the same job: I was an assistant coach there, and I am a full-time assistant coach here, but it’s just a very different kind of job. My responsibilities changed a lot. I’m more involved in recruiting. I’m more involved in the coaching side of things,” Sain said. “I knew everything I needed to know about Carnegie Mellon and how they operated. I just needed a new experience, and I was just fortunate enough to be able to stay in the league. Every time you work with new people, you learn how they do things, and that’s a new perspective.”
Sain is optimistic about her second season at Chicago, which began with a 84–67 loss in an exhibition game at D-I UIC. The Maroons, who are coming off a 17–8 season during which they went 8–6 in UAA play, begin their D-III schedule a week from Sunday, at Olivet Nazarene.
“If we can be in a position to win the league title and get ourselves to the tournament, we’re going to be successful once we get there,” Sain said.