After finishing a stellar women’s basketball career at Thiel College, Jess Vormelker’s next step was to search for an opportunity to play professionally.
But, when no such opportunity arose, Vormelker decided to turn to coaching, which is something she’s wanted to do from a young age. She looked all over the United States to find an appropriate fit to start a new journey in basketball.
Her search took her all the way to Chicago, Illinois, where she interviewed for a position at NAIA Judson University. But Vormelker wasn’t captivated by the thought of living in the Windy City. A few days after her interview with Judson, she got a call from a familiar voice, Waynesburg University head coach Sam Jones. Upon interviewing for the Waynesburg job, Vormelker knew she would fit in in Southwestern Pennsylvania.
This fall, Vormelker will switch her colors from Blue and Gold to Orange and Black. Last Friday, she was named to Jones’ staff for the 2019-20 season as a graduate assistant.
Vorlemker grew up in Orwell, Ohio and attended college in the small town of Greeneville, Pennsylvania. So she’s used to thriving in small environments.
“I think in a lot of ways, it’s very similar to Thiel,” Vormelker said. “Obviously it’s a small, liberal arts, division three school. So when I came on campus, it really felt like home to me. I’m from a small town, so I’m used to like the smaller campus and smaller town that it’s located in. So it really just felt like a good fit.”
Vormelker comes to Waynesburg after a standout career as a Tomcat, where she led the team in scoring all four years, was the Presidents’ Athletic Conference’s scoring champion during her junior season, and it’s Player of the Year as a senior. She also earned the honor of D3hoops.com All-American last season. Vormelker left Thiel as among the school’s leaders in several categories, such as three-pointers [first] points [third] and blocks [second]. When Jones needed to fill a graduate assistant position after Jasmine Jenkins departed for Pamona Pitzer, it didn’t take long for Vormelker’s name to come to mind.
“She’s a great player, right?” Jones said. “She was a conference player of the year, [so] that’s a pretty obvious statement. But I also just have watched through her career, and I know what kind of worth ethic she has.”
Based on statistics and accolades alone, it’s easy to see why Vormelker’s name popped into Jones’ head. More so than just her skills as a player, however, Vormelker’s drive and overall knowledge of the game appealed to Jones. Vormelker is new to coaching, but she’s an experienced leader both on the court, and in the classroom as an early childhood and special education graduate. Jones looks for Vormelker to assist her new players in their everyday lives, both on and away from the court.
“I have a good relationship with [Thiel head coach Rob] Clune, so he spoke very highly of her as an individual,” Jones said. “I thought she just might be someone that would get involved here at Waynesburg [in] both basketball and a human mentor to our girls.”
Over her years playing against Waynesburg, Vormelker found herself to be a fan of the fast-paced style that Jones coached teams played with.
“What I really noticed is they like to get up and down the court a lot, and they like to shoot, and they like to get into transition,” she said. “Obviously playing basketball that way is really fun. So I’m excited to be coming to that program, because running up and down the court and getting quick points in transition is a really fun way to play.”
Along with her basketball knowledge and leadership skills, Vormelker is unique in that she is familiar with Waynesburg and Thiel’s mutual conference opponents. Just several months removed from playing in the PAC Vormelker brings a fresh outlook of what its school schools have to offer.
“I feel really comfortable in the PAC. It’s just really cool that I’ll be able to coach against the coaches that I played against the last four years,” Vormelker said. “I think I’m really in a good position, starting off my career.”
Two winter days that Vormelker will have marked on are Jan. 18 and Feb. 19, when Thiel and Waynesburg faceoff.
“I think it’s going to be really weird,” she said… “Especially when we play at Thiel, just because there will be kids in the stand that I went to school with, and obviously I played with those girls I’ll be coaching against. So I think it will be a really weird, yet fun experience, but I think overall it will be a really good time.”
Vormelker will be an asset to a program that has a promising early outlook headed into 2019, as Waynesburg returns four starters, three of which were underclassmen last season. The possibility of helping Waynesburg get back to the upper echelon of the PAC, however, isn’t what Vormelker is most looking forward to about starting her new journey in Greene County.
“My faith is the most important thing about my life,” she said. “So I just feel very blessed to have the opportunity to not only be a basketball coach for these girls, but also to be a spiritual leader for any of the girls, or anyone on campus really. I just really feel like God led me to Waynesburg for a specific reason, and I guess I’ll just have to wait and see what that reason was.”