Nov. 19, 2012
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Marissa Kastanek signed to play for Hall of Famer Kay Yow at North Carolina State, honored that commitment after a coaching change and has been a vital part of Kellie Harper's program ever since.
Now, as Yow's last active recruit, Kastanek is a senior hoping to get the Wolfpack back to the NCAA tournament.
"It's gone by quick," Kastanek said. "I'm really excited to be able to put to work everything I've learned from my freshman year, from my seniors that year to my people that have been leading me. I feel like it's my time to do what they did for me for these girls."
It's hard to imagine how Harper's first few seasons would've gone here had the 5-foot-9 guard decided to play elsewhere. She has started all but two games of her college career, averaged double figures in scoring every year and enters this season as the unquestioned leader of the Wolfpack (3-0).
Harper said Kastanek has always shown a lead-by-example work ethic, but has improved her midrange game and is getting her 3-pointer off quicker coming into the season.
"She is so much fun to coach," Harper said. "Our fans adore her. She wants to have a good senior year, but I've heard it straight from Marissa: she wants more than anything for her teammates to go back to the NCAA tournament. And I think that is huge."
Kastanek, a native of Lincoln, Neb., was one of two players — Kelsie Lliteras, who transferred to Nebraska-Omaha and later quit the sport, was the other — to sign with the Wolfpack in November 2008 in Yow's final recruiting class. The coach died two months later after a long fight with cancer.
Kastanek still fondly recalled Yow's recruiting visit to her in Nebraska. The ailing coach patiently answered a barrage of questions from Kastanek's younger brother and played with him despite having to wear special gloves because her hands were so tender.
"Coach Yow was the type of person who could've been in the most pain in the world, but she never showed it," Kastanek said. "All my previous teammates could tell you, you wanted to do anything for her because she'd do anything for anybody else. That was one of the biggest things for why I wanted to come here, because she was not only a great coach but also a great person to want to follow and learn from."
Harper, who took over in April 2009, quickly visited Kastanek in Nebraska and made frequent calls to ensure she would still come to N.C. State and feel comfortable with the new staff.
"We're the same age at N.C. State is kind of a fun way to put it," Kastanek said. "We're both seniors this year. It's just kind of cool. They're really my senior class because I don't have one."
Kastanek's tough-minded play helped the Wolfpack make a surprise run to the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament final and reach the NCAA tournament in Harper's first season, and Kastanek was named ACC freshman of the year.
So far, that's been the Wolfpack's best season under Harper. Last year, N.C. State finished 19-16, upset then-No. 5 Duke in the ACC tournament quarterfinals and reached the second round of the WNIT.
"It was a great fortune for Kellie and her staff to inherit that kind of commitment despite all the changes and everything that goes through a transition," Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said. "I think she's made it much smoother. ... That's a special thing when you're a new coach in a new situation. She's been super — not just productive but committed."
Now Kastanek, averaging 14 points through the first three games, is hoping she can help N.C. State take a big step forward in her final season in Raleigh.
"You never know when it's going to be your turn to be hurt or for some reason find out you can't play basketball anymore," Kastanek said. "To me, I want to get as much out of it as I can now before that time comes."