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Former Tiger standout returns to coach girls’ hoop team

MIDDLEBURY — A member of the 2004 Division I championship Middlebury Union High School girls’ basketball team has been hired as the new head coach of the program.
Mary Nienow, a 2005 MUHS and 2009 Castleton State College graduate who scored 1,000 points for the Spartan women’s hoop team, is taking over from MUHS chemistry teacher Cindy Atkins.
This past winter, Nienow assisted Atkins, who was Nienow’s coach for three years at MUHS.
Nienow — who totaled 752 points in her MUHS varsity career — said it’s exciting to go from playing for Atkins to taking over the reins from her.
“Over the years I’ve built a friendship with Cindy, going from her being my coach and then getting close to her, being my friend. And it’s been a great experience,” she said.
MUHS Activities Director Sean Farrell said he and Atkins went into this past season knowing it would be Atkins’ last, and he and the coach kept an eye on Nienow’s work as an assistant.
Farrell said they liked what they saw.
“We felt we she did a great job. She connected with kids very well,” he said. “She certainly knows the game, and philosophically we’re on the same page.”
Nienow has also coached many of the girls in the program in the past three years during the spring AAU season and, in the two winters before she assisted Atkins, working with the 7th- and 8th-grade teams at Middlebury Union Middle School.
“Transitioning someone from within as a known entity makes a lot of sense,” Farrell said.
Nienow, now a paraeducator at Mary Hogan Elementary School, said her familiarity with the athletes and desire that the program have a smooth transition also figured into her decision to apply for the job.  
“I’m all here for the girls. I know a lot of them are struggling with the fact Cindy’s gone,” she said. “I just want to keep high hopes for Middlebury basketball as far as making sure the girls have fun, enjoy their time here. It goes fast, as I know. I want to make sure to keep the program alive, that the girls have a good time, that they learn to set goals for themselves and learn to achieve them.”
Nienow is also confident she wants to explore coaching as a long-term goal.
“I’m just here to be supportive and try my best and figure out if coaching is what I want to do. I definitely have the love for basketball, and I like working with this age group,” she said. “And as I teach, it’s important to be a good leader. So it was definitely something I wanted to take on.”
Nienow, who will be assisted by Laura Emilo, another former Tiger standout who played at Castleton, said she will try to instill larger lessons as a coach.
“We’re not all going onto the WNBA. I’ve taken so much from just learning how to be part of a team,” she said. “When you work later on, in whatever career these girls (choose), it’s very important … I want to help them out, lead them down the right path, and help them make good choices, and have fun.”
On the court, Nienow said she will start by emphasizing fundamentals to a group of athletes returning from a 7-13 team that graduated three senior starters.
“I’m going to keep it simple. I’m not going to try to come in here and try to run all these crazy drills,” she said. “I’m going to start from the beginning and work with the basics, offense and defense, and then try to fit things in as it goes.”
Nienow said she would apply some of the defensive principles learned at Castleton.
“I wasn’t a good defensive player in high school,” Nienow said. “I want to make sure they know how important defense is. That’s where I want to start. We may not have a lot of juniors and seniors and all this raw talent coming back, but we can make sure we are good defenders.”
Overall, Nienow is looking forward to a different challenge in a familiar setting.
“I think it’s something I could be good at. It’s kind of scary, being at the beginning of it and there’s so much to learn. But at the same time it’s something I definitely want to take on,” she said. “And I don’t want to let the program down. It’s been so much a part of my life.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at andyk@addisonindependent

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