by Tom Utescher
A multi-sport athlete at Germantown Friends School and an All-American basketball guard at Ithaca College (’10), Katherine Bixby has been advancing in the collegiate coaching ranks. She earned her first head coaching job at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa. in 2014, and in the middle of June it was announced that she’s taking the hoops helm at a big city, high profile Division III school, Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.
The GFS alum said that she hadn’t been actively seeking a new position.
“They approached me, which was very flattering,” noted Bixby, whose old team, Dickinson, and new team, Johns Hopkins, are both members of the Centennial Conference.
“Growing up in a Quaker environment and growing up in a city, I realized I missed those things,” she continued. “Overall, Johns Hopkins is such an impressive place. The athletic program is a perennial power pretty much across the board, and I feel honored to become a part of it.”
Bixby succeeds Nancy Funk, who had a heralded 31-year career heading the Blue Jay’s program before announcing her retirement this spring.
“Coach Funk was a pioneer for women in coaching,” Bixby said. ” She established a culture where excellence is expected, and I look forward to being able to build on that legacy. It’s an opportunity for me to challenge myself in my profession, having to adapt to a new situation.”
Bixby had come to Dickinson in 2014 to find a program that had won an average of just eight games a season in the four previous campaigns. After restructuring the team during her first year, she guided the Red Devils to a record of 34-18 over the next two seasons, with Dickinson reaching the conference semifinals each time.
Germantown Friends athletic director Katie Bergstrom-Mark and Bixby’s former coach at GFS, Tom Myran, have followed her career as a college player and now a college coach.
“They’ve both been great supporters the whole time,” the new Hopkins skipper said.
Looking back, she remarked, “I enjoyed my whole experience at Dickinson, and my time there definitely helped me progress as a coach.”
At Germantown Friends, Bixby was a three-sport standout at the varsity level, earning All-Friends Schools League honors in soccer, basketball, and lacrosse, and serving as captain for all three teams as a senior. In lacrosse she scored over 100 points (goals and assists) in her career, and the Tigers won the FSL championship in her senior season in 2006.
In basketball she was an all-league selection throughout her four years on varsity, breaking the 1000-point mark in career scoring and earning the team MVP award as a junior and senior.
She then took her talents to Ithaca College, and back at home she played in the Philadelphia/Suburban NCAA Summer League which originated in Chestnut Hill.
For the Ithaca Bombers, she became a three-time pick for the All-Empire 8 Conference First Team, and was named an honorable mention All-American as a senior. In that final season, Ithaca made its deepest advance ever into the NCAA tournament, reaching the quarterfinal round. She then served as an assistant coach at her college alma mater and coached at Ithaca High School, as well. Bixby had also been an all-conference lacrosse player while attending Ithaca.
In the second of her three seasons as head coach at Dickinson, she led the Red Devils to the Centennial Conference playoffs for the first time in five years. Among her recruits for the Class of 2020 was a four-year varsity starting point guard from GFS, Lizzie Becker (who will remain at Dickinson).
Bixby will be working in a new setting in Baltimore, but she’ll be able to bring with her several seasons’ experience as a head coach.
She observed, “One of the things that’s been strengthened in me is the ability to read student athletes, and discover what motivates them as individuals to want to play college basketball. A primary reason for my getting into coaching was to mentor and help develop young women.”
Not all coaches are fond of the recruiting process, but the GFS grad says she enjoys the traveling, meeting new people, and having the opportunity to watch a lot of high school players in action.
“Obviously, I have to be aware that student athletes have to meet high academic standards at Johns Hopkins,” she said, “A big advantage, though, is the fact that it’s an institution that has a national reach, and really, an international reach.”
The recruiting trail has already taken her out to the West Coast this summer, and when she’s through the thick of that process, she’ll begin to finalize her coaching staff.
“We really opened up the search,” Bixby revealed, “and we’ve heard from around 40 strong applicants, which is exciting.”
Last year’s Blue Jays squad posted a final record of 12-8 within the Centennial Conference and went 13-12 overall.
“Three seniors who saw a lot of time have graduated,” Bixby related, “including two of the three post players.”
There’s a good deal of returning talent, though, including high scorer Lillian Scott, a shooting guard from northern New Jersey, and Lexie Scholtz, a Californian who started every game last season at point guard.
“It’ll be nice to be coaching them instead of having to coach against them,” said former Dickinson mentor Bixby. “I’m just very excited about the whole situation.”