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Baby steps: Lake assistant coaches come together to fill in for pregnant head coach Ashley Phipps-Komo

With Ashley Phipps-Komo expecting her first child, the Lake assistant coaches have filled in to lead the Blue Streaks

UNIONTOWN, Ohio - The Lake girls basketball team will travel to Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland on Monday afternoon for a game against Wadsworth. They will do so without their head coach, but they could have a new teammate by the time they are back home.

That's because Lake head coach Ashley Phipps-Komo will be at the hospital Monday, where she will be induced into labor that evening to give birth to the first child for her and her husband, Jared.

The Komos found out they were expecting earlier this summer, so it gave Ashley plenty of time to come up with a plan for her team, who moved to 15-1 overall and 9-1 in the Federal League on Saturday with a 56-47 win over Green.

The plan is for assistant coaches Beth Mazzocca and Allen Mangus to alternate games as co-head coaches, something they have been doing for the past few weeks while Phipps-Komo helps from the bench. Andrea Chavez has stepped up to help run the Lake JV team.

While the plan was already in place, it is never easy for a head coach to loosen the reins and give over control of her team.

"We knew this summer that this was going to happen and we put our pieces in place on how we were going to transition,"  Phipps-Komo said. "The last couple of weeks and it's not because I don't trust my staff, but it's been incredibly difficult letting go. I've learned how to stop micromanaging. My staff has been amazing."

In this past week, Mazzocca took the lead for the game against Jackson, a 47-37 win, while Mangus led the charge in Saturday's win. The pair like the idea of splitting the games.

"It's great because then you're focused on that one team," Mazzocca said. "For Jackson, I was focused on Jackson, then he can focus on Green. It takes that weight off of having to turn around right away and go on the next game. We trust each other really well. We feed off of each other. And then at that point, I've watched all the film on Jackson, I know what they do. He watches all the film on Green. He knows what they do. So we focus in and hone in on that."

Having a staff that is close and has respect for one another the way this one does makes the transition smoother.

"One thing coach has been preaching all year is one team, one purpose and trust in your teammates in everything you do," Mangus said. "And we have to do the same as a coaching staff. We trust each other and take suggestions from each other and know that we're not always going to make the right decision. We use each other as a resource. So if we're going to preach to our girls that we have to be a good team, we have to be a good team as coaches as well."

It took some time for the plan to come together the way Phipps-Komo and her staff wanted it to, but the Blue Streaks have been on a roll of late, winning nine straight games with Saturday's victory, a game Phipps-Komo herself wasn't even sure she would attend.

"At the beginning, not that we were fighting, but it took a couple games for us to really get into our groove," Phipps-Komo said. "But we're there now and today was a 50-50 (chance) of me showing up but I wasn't worried about anything. I knew they had it under control."

Phipps-Komo can feel confident in her assistant coaches because they are willing to put in the time and effort necessary to make this season a good one for the Blue Streaks.

"I can't say enough about what they've done for our program and the time that they've put in to make this season successful because this transition has been happening all year, it didn't just happen this week," Phipps-Komo said. "They've done practice plans, scouting reports. They’re a blessing."

And the fact that the plan has been in place for so long was an advantage for the coaching staff, who could get an idea of who was going to do what and when.

"Being able to have that time to prepare and to strategize how our coaches were going to do that was great," Phipps-Komo said. "It started week one during tryouts. We each split days of practice plans, just so the girls could start to get used to new voices and things like that."

Lake girls basketball head coach Ashley Phipps-Komo (hands on hips) watches as her assistant coaches lead the huddle in a game against Green on January 27, 2024

Lake girls basketball head coach Ashley Phipps-Komo (hands on hips) watches as her assistant coaches lead the huddle in a game against Green on January 27, 2024

As for starting a family, it is something Phipps-Komo and her husband had wanted to do, but she knew she might have to put basketball to the side in order to make it happen. While that isn't an easy decision, she had help in her corner in the form of one of her assistant coaches.

"Last year, Beth (Mazzocca) had a quick talk with me after the season," Phipps-Komo said. "She knew we wanted kids but she felt basketball was what was keeping me from starting a family in a way and I still remember that conversation because I love Beth to death but she has no problem being upfront and real with me."

So it was Beth Mazzocca who Phipps-Komo turned to at the Cedar Point shootout this past summer, telling her assistant coach that she thought she might be pregnant. Her assistant coach's advice at the time? Go get a pregnancy test.

Turn the clock forward and Mazzocca, who has four kids of her own, had parenting advice for Phipps-Komo on Saturday.

"I would say enjoy being pregnant, because once it's out that's the hard part," Mazzocca said with a laugh before turning serious. "But it's great. Having a baby is one of the best things in the world. I say once they have this child, love on that kid, stay with him because you don't get those moments back. Basketball will be here down the road, those moments with your kids are not."

Having the love and support of those she spends so much time with on the coaching staff has always been important to Phipps-Komo, but especially so over these past few months.

"Our staff, we're friends," Phipps-Komo said. "Andrea, I coached when she was a senior in high school and I worked with Allan and Beth is a friend. To have them not just for the basketball side, but as friends to support my husband and I while we go through this growing family thing, it means the world to me." 

As for when she will be back on the sidelines? Phipps-Komo doesn't have a plan just yet, but she would like to be back sooner rather than later.

"I say I'll be off for a while but I would imagine as long as I'm able, probably doing what I'm doing now, letting these guys still run the show," Phipps-Komo said. "But I don't think I'll be out too long. If it's under my control, at least."

If the Blue Streaks beat Hoover on Wednesday, a win over GlenOak on Saturday, February 3rd would guarantee them at least a share of the Federal League title. Phipps-Komo said she would like to be able to attend the game against GlenOak if possible. 

Of course she would. She is a coach, after all. 

And who knows, maybe there will be a new Komo in a red and blue onesie at the gym cheering on the Blue Streaks that day.

-- Ryan Isley | | @sbliveoh