Few girls basketball programs have bolstered their coaching staffs this offseason as much as Mercy (Md.), which
July 25 it hired former Perry Hall boys' basketball coach George Panageotou to be an assistant coach on its varsity squad.
Panageotou, who led Perry Hall to consecutive Maryland Public Secondary School Athletic Association 4A state titles the past two seasons, stepped away from the Gators because he wanted to spend more time with his family. But with his eldest daughter, Lauren, deciding she wanted to attend Mercy as an eighth grader for this upcoming school year, Panageotou wanted to see if it'd be possible for him to coach her when she got to high school.
"I always wanted to be a part of where Lauren was going to go to school and try to be on the staff there," Panageotou said. "When I heard there was going to be a turnover of staff at Mercy, I reached out to Nick Gill, the athletic director there. They had room, and I was hired pretty quickly after."
It also helped that Mercy head coach Mary Ella Marion and Panageotou knew each other before becoming colleagues. Panageotou's wife, Tricia, played basketball for Marion while she was a student at Mercy. Though bringing in a coach as successful as Panageotou as an assistant is a coup for Mercy's program, Marion is more excited about the kind of person she is adding to her staff rather than his pedigree.
"He's low-key and not a big yeller, which is fantastic," Marion said. "George is really knowledgeable. We had a scrimmage earlier this week, which featured our returners and some of our ninth graders against the [Amateur Athletic Union] team he coaches that his daughter plays on. I was impressed - his team was disciplined, very skilled, and ran nice sets."
Mercy's staff shakeup started in May when it was
Marion, who coached Mercy to a 389-322 record from 1985-2013, would return to the sidelines. Marion, a Mercy alum who is also the Dean of Students at the school, began to miss coaching more with every passing season that she was away from the game. When the head coach position became available, Marion jumped at the chance to get back into it. Rich Naldrett, who previously coached Mercy's junior varsity squad, joined Marion as an assistant.
It was a welcome change for the program, which didn't have a winning season during Marion's five-year hiatus. The Magic, who compete in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland (IAAM), finished with a 7-12 overall mark last season.
"It sort of feels like a child of mine," Marion said. "I want to get it back to where we were always competitive. We may not have won the number of titles as other schools, but we always knew we had a chance when we took the court. That's all you can ask for as a coach."
Marion and Panageotou have plenty of ideas for how to improve the Mercy program. For Marion, it's vital to get the school's multisport athletes involved with the program again to improve the team's overall athleticism.
"Those student-athletes can always add something to your program, and we're working toward bringing those girls back," Marion said.
Marion and Panageotou also think getting back on track against the Institute of Notre Dame (Md.), the Magic's top rival, will be crucial to getting a buzz around the program again.
Dubbed "The Game" and played in front of thousands at Towson University's SECU Arena, this upcoming season will be the 53rd iteration of the contest. Though Mercy holds a 30-22 advantage in the series, IND has won each year since Marion left the sidelines.
"I've been as a fan before and it's an awesome atmosphere," Panageotou said. "It's a great tradition and a great opportunity for the kids. IND has become a really strong program over the past few years, but we want to get back to winning it."
Both coaches also plan to be involved with the program for multiple years. Panageotou pointed out that his youngest daughter, Emma, also plays basketball and is set to graduate high school in 2026.
Marion won't put a number on how many years she expects to coach, but she does plan to do it long enough to see the program head back in the right direction.
"I think it'll take a couple years to get it back to being competitive, so I don't think it would be smart for me to be here for just one season," Marion said. "It's tough to put a timeline on something like that. Give us a couple years, though, and we'll be back."
Photo Credit: Courtesy of George Panageotou