By Jackson Toomey '20 / Sports Information Intern
WILLIMANTIC, Conn. -- The Eastern Connecticut State University women's basketball team has made a very strong addition to its coaching staff as the upcoming season is upon it. Former Windham High School girls' basketball coach and Eastern alumnus Ken Valliere -- a native of North Windham -- will join the staff after 23 years in charge of the Whippets.
When former assistant Caroline Brasa moved on at the end of last year after three seasons, Eastern head coach Denise Bierly first reached out to Valliere to ask if he knew of anyone who might be interested in the job. She was surprised, as well as excited, when Valliere informed the Eastern head coach that he himself was interested.
"He had a really, really strong (high school) program, and the interest we get is usually from coaches just starting their career," said Bierly. "Obviously I was very excited."
While Valliere needed only to cross High Street in Willimantic to change his basketball coaching address, the decision to leave Windham High was much more difficult than merely taking that walk. Ultimately, he felt it was the right time for him to accept a new challenge. "I thought at this time and this point in my career, it would be a great opportunity to take the next step to the college level," Valliere explained.
As he takes this next step, Valliere has left a strong legacy at Windham High School. In 23 years of coaching girls' basketball, he won two state championships, seven Eastern Connecticut Conference (ECC) championships, and was named the Connecticut High School Coaches Association Girls Basketball Coach-of-the-Year in the 2017-2018 season. He also coached the school's baseball team, adding three ECC championships to his resume. While most of his years were with basketball and baseball, Valliere also spent time coaching softball, soccer, and American Legion baseball.
Both Windham High School and Eastern are very special to Valliere. He is an alumnus of both schools, playing four years of basketball and baseball at Windham High. At Eastern, he was a four-year member of the baseball program under Hall of Fame coach Bill Holowaty, where he was a right-handed pitcher and lefty-swinging first baseman and senior captain who batted .323 with a .984 fielding percentage as a junior on the 1990 national championship team.
"I have great memories of Eastern when I was here," said Valliere. "It's a nice feeling to give back to the place that gives so much to you."
The strong connection to both schools also made leaving Windham High difficult. He says it was an emotional time when he told the team, which includes his daughter Rylee, that he was leaving. He still has full support from his family and from Windham, which will help his transition.
Valliere and Bierly -- now in her 26th season at Eastern -- have had a strong relationship, with many of Valliere's former players from the Windham program moving on to play at Eastern, most recently among them Danyelle Rodriguez '16, Taylor McBride '15, and 1,000-point scorer Nicky Morey' 09.
Bierly acknowledges how much Valliere will help not only her, but the members of the team as well. "I think the main point of all of this is that he's going to be a big asset to our student-athletes. They're going to have someone who has a wealth of experience, is highly motivated, and is a tremendous hard worker.
Valliere joins former Windham High coaching colleague Bill Strand at Eastern. Strand, the former head boys' basketball coach at Windham, enters his 7th year as assistant men's basketball coach under Bill Geitner after serving in the same capacity under Eastern Hall of Fame coach Dan Switchenko for six years in the late 1980s and early '90s.
Valliere earned his B.S. Degree in Physical Education from Eastern and is among numerous alumni who currently serve as volunteer, head or assistant coaches at their alma mater:
JOINING THE CROWD
Alumnus Sport Year
Jay Barney '09 Men's Soccer 7th
Laura Bratz '08 Field Hockey 3rd
Dawn (Walmsley) Brolin '92 Softball 2nd
Devin Callahan '17 Men's Lacrosse 4th
Zach Droesch '04 Women's Volleyball 9th
Ken Goodale '87 Women's Soccer 19th
Kaitlyn Kennedy '14 Women's Soccer 5th
Diana Pepin '92 Softball (head coach) 19th
Dr. Adam Phaiah '05 Men's Soccer 14th
Trachone Preston '16 Men's Basketball 3rd
Beth Regan '79 Women's Basketball 4th
Andre Reynolds '15 Track & Field 3rd
Rosa Riccobono '17 Women's Lacrosse 1st
Phil Stevens '98 Women's Soccer 4th
Tim Thayer '02 Cross Country/Track 3rd
Ken Valliere '91 Women's Basketball 1st
*Chris Wojick '11 Baseball 2nd
*-Also serves as head men's golf coach