Longtime assistant Heather Casey hired as Warren Central’s girls’ basketball head coach

Published 4:03 pm Thursday, April 25, 2024

Heather Casey has been with Warren Central’s girls’ basketball program through the good times and the bad times.

Now it’s her time.

Casey, who spent the past decade as an assistant with the school, has been promoted to the head coach position, the Vicksburg Warren School District announced Thursday.

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“Surreal, honestly. I’m excited. I played here and I saw a lot of good things. I played under great coaches and I’m excited to get back to winning. Get back to winning championships, but also to make it new and exciting,” Casey said. “I’m hoping since I’m a new face, but also a familiar face, it’ll also get the community involved and just get us back on track, get the train going.”

Casey’s mission will be to rebuild a once-proud program that had one of its worst seasons ever this past winter. After making back-to-back trips to the MHSAA Class 6A state tournament, the Lady Vikes went winless (0-26) in the 2023-24 season.

Several players transferred to other schools or quit the team, and there were only seven on the roster by the end of the season. The struggles on and off the court led to a decision by the school district to part ways with head coach Arnissayur Robinson.

Casey, who has been an assistant with Warren Central’s varsity team since 2017 and was with its junior high team for three years before that, said this year’s freefall was the end result of differing philosophies.

“I would say maybe philosophies. New coaches come in and they have a way they want to do things. But they also have to match the students and the staff that you’re inheriting. Sometimes it’s a struggle meeting people where they are,” Casey said. “I think it was just a little clash there. But I don’t think it was intentional. I think good intentions were all around. This thing is not easy to do.”

Casey acknowledged that pulling the Lady Vikes out of the abyss won’t be easy. Besides conjuring up good game plans she’ll need to find some players. Fortunately, that’s something she feels like she’s in a unique position to do.

Casey graduated from Warren Central in 2008 and has spent her entire teaching and coaching career in her alma mater’s ecosystem. In addition to her basketball duties, she’s been Warren Central’s varsity track head coach since 2019 and has volunteered as a scorekeeper at volleyball games.

Casey is hoping the relationships she’s built with students, their families, and the community as a whole over the past two decades will encourage some of the school’s athletes to come out for basketball.

“Wherever they are, I am. I just like to be known because sometimes that’s how you recruit. You’ve just got to look like a person that’s fun, they’re going places. Let’s go try out. That’s really my recruiting tool,” Casey said. “Rebuilding is going to take bodies. I think I can get them back.”

Casey is hoping her familiarity with everyone will buy some needed patience from fans as well. She has a plan, but doesn’t expect to go from 0-26 this season to the Coliseum next year.

“It’s going to take the long haul to get to where I think we can go. I don’t think it’s going to be a quick turnaround,” Casey said. “I think it’s going to take a process and everyone trusting it — not just the team, but also the parents, the community, everyone everywhere has to trust the process. To know someone wants to build a foundation and make it great for a while.”

Casey added that building trust and respect with her players is a key part of her coaching philosophy.

“I’ve learned that you can do it your way, but you also have to value what these kids say and their opinions, and respect them as people,” she said. “I try to build relationships. I feel like the best way to make the X’s and O’s work, to make the system work, and to get kids to perform is you have to build relationships.”

In the short term, Casey said she’ll try to make the Lady Vikes competitive again. Their average margin of defeat last season was 48.5 points. They had four games in which they scored in single digits, and they only scored more than 40 points twice.

Although Casey obviously wants to win, she said losing gracefully also has some merit at this stage of the program’s evolution. Closing the gap and winning a few games will be a good first step in the rebuilding process.

“It’s great to have realistic expectations. However, as low as you want to keep your expectations, to win is always the goal. I don’t care if we’re going up against the greatest team in the state,” Casey said. “If we’re going to lose, I want to look like a team you say, ‘Hey, they’ve got it, they’re just missing some pieces and wait until next year.’ I don’t want to be on the side of, ‘Oh my gosh, what are they doing?’ You can lose looking like you’re building something.”

As she tries to get her alma mater back on track, Casey said she was grateful for the opportunity — and that it came at a place that has meant so much to her.

“It feels so surreal. I don’t know if I’ve accepted it. Maybe when I see it I’ll believe it’s true. But when you have a goal for so long, to see it coming to fruition, I’m just thankful and grateful,” she said. “At some point I thought I was going to have to go to get the opportunity. I think things are sometimes delayed but not denied, but you don’t understand the delay. But I do now. I have grown so much and I am so ready for this.”

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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