With her arms raised in a defensive stance, Kelly “KJ” Krasco ’05 maneuvered quickly as players approached her one by one down the drill line. Squeaking sneakers were silenced by regular reminders of “More communication. More talk. We need to do a better job of communicating.” Shouts of “ball,” “help” and “shot” rose as players drove and delivered to the basket.
An intensive two-hour practice had begun. The Colby-Sawyer alumna and new Middlebury College women’s basketball head coach stepped into her role with ease, yet her youth and humility made it easy to imagine Krasco as she was in college: one of the finest offensive players in Chargers history.
Of course, behind every polished offensive athlete is a playmaker. For Krasco, this was her teammate, friend and dormmate, Erika DeSanty ’05. A point guard who dominated in assists and steals, DeSanty has also made her mark in collegiate coaching, moving from the court to the course as head coach for the Princeton University women’s golf team.
Despite their different sports, Krasco and DeSanty remain bound by an enduring friendship, memories of their alma mater, and like-minded approaches to coaching.
KJ Krasco ’05
Krasco’s journey to Colby-Sawyer was not typical. As a high school senior, the Medford, Mass., native and multisport athlete was pursued by several schools, including Colby-Sawyer and Head Women’s Basketball Coach George Martin, but she chose to play softball for Assumption College in Worcester, Mass. It didn’t take long for Krasco to realize she had made a mistake—she wanted to play basketball and study exercise and sport sciences (ESS). She reconnected with Coach Martin, transferred the next semester and began playing with the Chargers the following year.
“Probably the worst coaching decision I ever made in my 21 years here at Colby-Sawyer was that I didn’t let her play when she transferred here in January,” said Coach Martin of Krasco’s time on the bench. “I made her sit for the semester and only let her start playing her sophomore year.”
Krasco never questioned her coach’s judgment. “I understood,” she said. “That was a really good learning experience, to take a step back and recognize that you don’t need to always be on the court to make an impact on your team.”
And she certainly did make an impact. Beginning with an impressive 32-point performance in her second game, she scored 1,044 points in three seasons and is Colby-Sawyer’s 12th highest all-time scorer. She is the college’s fifth highest career three-pointer scorer with 154 shots. During the 2004-2005 season, when the Chargers won the Commonwealth Coast Conference (CCC) Championship and played in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament, Krasco was named All-CCC First Team, New England Women’s Basketball Association (NEWBA) All-Star Third Team and N.H. Division III Women’s Basketball Player of the Year. During her final season, she played in the NEWBA Senior Classic.
Krasco is quick to recognize the role of her fellow players and Coach Martin in her accomplishments. “I wouldn’t have been the player I was at Colby-Sawyer if it weren’t for my coach and teammates,” she said. “If they weren’t passing me the ball, I wouldn’t have been able to score.”
Opening the season in mid-November at the Tyler Tipoff Tournament at Smith College, Middlebury took the tournament. The victory comes as no surprise to Krasco’s former coach who, just a month before, had predicted her success. “She was always hardworking, always engaged in practices and games, and always striving to improve,” said Coach Martin when he inducted Krasco into the Colby-Sawyer Athletic Hall of Fame. “That same activity is going to make KJ a great coach. It’s not going to be long before she turns Middlebury into one of the top schools in New England basketball again.”
DeSanty traveled from New Jersey to cheer on Krasco throughout the tournament. “I happen to be a big fan of Smith basketball,” said DeSanty. “Being able to watch them and KJ in her Middlebury coaching debut was pretty special. Her team looked great, and she looked so comfortable leading them. I look forward to following all of her success.”
Middlebury closed the 2014-15 regular season with an 11:14 mark and 3-7 in New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) tournament play.
When Krasco reflected on her time as a student-athlete at Colby-Sawyer, she recalled the team’s championship win as the highlight of her collegiate career. “That’s the only championship I ever won or have been part of, and it was an awesome feeling,” she said. “Winning a championship and playing in the NCAA tournament are potentially once in-a-lifetime opportunities.”
After graduation, Krasco began her coaching career as a Division III women’s basketball assistant coach at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., while earning her M.Ed. In 2007, she became head coach at Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y., and then in 2010 a Division II coaching opportunity became available at Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass. “Division II involved working with scholarships and recruiting in a different way than what I had done at St. Lawrence and Clarkson,” said Krasco. Following a year at Merrimack, she spent three seasons as an assistant coach at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, where she also served as the top recruiter for a program that made two NCAA tournament appearances.
Now at Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vt., Krasco is once again a head coach who concentrates on helping her young roster to progress by focusing on goals. “It’s day-to-day with us,” she said. “We are learning new concepts and new plays each day. It’s going to be a process.”
Krasco believes that process centers on building appropriate, fair and positive communication. “There are going to be days where you feel like the team may not be working up to its potential and you have to get on them a bit,” said Krasco. “But I like to do so in such a way that I’m challenging them and not criticizing them. I want our team to have a positive experience. I want everyone to graduate from Middlebury and say they were happy to be a part of the women’s basketball program.”
Erika Desanty ’05
Erika DeSanty can’t remember life without athletics. Growing up in the small town of North Adams in the Berkshire Mountains of Western Massachusetts, DeSanty was a multisport standout on the basketball, soccer, golf and track teams at Drury High School. When considering her college options, she was impressed with Colby-Sawyer’s ESS Program, but she also knew she needed to attend a school that would allow basketball to be a part of her experience. “Basketball was my first love, and playing it in college was always my dream,” she said.
Timing and opportunity connected for DeSanty. “It was coincidental that soon after I learned about the ESS Program at Colby-Sawyer, Coach Martin began recruiting me,” she said. “How lucky and glad I was! Coach is a great recruiter, but I was sold the moment I visited campus. I loved the small class sizes and the sense of community.”
Though fully invested in her responsibilities in the classroom and on the basketball court, DeSanty still couldn’t deny the pull of the golf course. She found an outlet through an internship with Lake Sunapee Country Club and once again was balancing the mindset of a multisport athlete. “In basketball, you say to yourself, ‘Okay, I’m just going to go harder. I’m going to run faster. I’m going to dive for that next ball,’” said DeSanty. “And in golf, it’s just the opposite. You have to control your emotions.”
As a four-year starting point guard and two-year captain of the women’s basketball team, DeSanty was named MVP as Colby-Sawyer won the conference championship and advanced to the first round of the NCAA tournament. She finished her Chargers career ranked second in career assists(486), fourth in career steals (230) and profoundly inspired. “Being a point guard, you’re the creator of people’s success,” said DeSanty. “Without question, that has impacted me.”
After graduation, DeSanty was an assistant varsity and head junior varsity women’s basketball coach at Elmira College in Elmira, N.Y., while earning a master’s degree in education. In 2007, she took the position of assistant women’s basketball coach at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., while working as a demonstrative technician for the Callaway Golf Company. DeSanty had once again found a way to keep both sports in her life. Then an opportunity that would position golf as her dominant sport presented itself.
“The [Williams College] athletic director called me into his office and told me, ‘If you want to be a women’s basketball coach, you’re going to have to leave Williams. But if you want to be a head coach at Williams, then there’s an opportunity in women’s golf,’” said DeSanty.
In 2009, DeSanty took over the Williams women’s golf program. During her five seasons there, she was twice named Division III East Region Coach of the Year by the National Golf Coaches Association as she guided her team to top-10 finishes at the NCAA Division III championship, including three top-five. In 2014, Williams finished third in the NCAA finals, the highest finish in program history, and senior Georgiana Salant won the individual national title for her third All-America recognition. “The greatest coaching experience I’ve had at this point was walking down the 18th hole when Georgiana was about to win the national championship as an individual,” said DeSanty. “That was incredible.”
Then DeSanty took her coaching to the next level, leaving Division III Williams to coach in the Ivy League. “I’m thrilled that Erika has been named as the women’s golf coach at Princeton University,” said Coach Martin. “She’s a natural leader, and her personality makes her an outstanding recruiter. She’s driven to be the best at all she does, and I’m certain this quality will allow her to have great success in the position.”
At Princeton, DeSanty continues to rely on her proven coaching style, which centers on building relationships. It’s a philosophy that Coach Martin helped solidify. “He truly regards his student-athletes as his family, and I know that he cares as deeply about how I’m doing today as he did when I was his point guard so many years ago,” she said.
Like her coach, DeSanty believes in an individual approach. “I’m very approachable, but firm at the same time,” said DeSanty. “Getting to know each student-athlete is really important to me, and so is getting to know what they need from me as their coach.”
In the end, though, DeSanty says an athlete’s success is up to him or her. “It’s all about the athlete, what they want to get out of the experience. One has to be driven and willing to do the extra work to be great, and that means what they’re doing beyond practice time to be at their very best. To be successful as an athlete you have to be successful as a person. The coach relationship can make a huge difference in that, but I would be foolish to think that it is all about the coach.”
DeSanty plans to continue structuring the team’s future. “My goals are to build the best Ivy League program I can and to have a program that consistently competes at that high level,” she said. “I think we’re fully capable of doing that here. That’s exciting.”
They Will Always Be Chargers
Erika and KJ believe in staying involved as alumnae. Both participate in the Professional Pen Pal Assignment with exercise and sport sciences students, and they return to campus as often as possible for games, alumni events and other celebrations. They also enjoy reconnecting with their beloved “Coach George,” who is now also a Colby-Sawyer athletic director, and they easily express their fondness for him while crediting him with being a major influence on their lives and careers.
During her acceptance speech at the Athletic Hall of Fame induction ceremony this fall, Krasco turned to Coach Martin and said, “Coach, my mentor, thank you so much for everything you’ve done for me.” Addressing the audience, she added, “He’s my number-one reference. I am where I am today because of him.”
The admiration goes both ways. Here’s what Coach Martin has to say about his former championship players turned coaches
KJ and Erika were two of the most driven student-athletes I’ve coached here at Colby-Sawyer. They settled for nothing but the best from themselves, both in the classroom and on the court. Both of them were great leaders, but in different fashions.
Erika was always the fire that ignited the team, and KJ was the quiet calm that kept everyone together when things got tough. These characteristics have carried over to their coaching styles. They know their own strengths and personalities and use them in their coaching.
If anyone had asked me who I thought might become coaches, I would have answered Erika DeSanty and KJ Krasco. I’m not surprised that both of them have gotten into the profession. Their competitive natures fit nicely into the field, and their abilities to react and adjust to any situation have allowed them to be successful. They’re both wonderful teachers of their games and understand the student-athletes that they work with.
While at Colby-Sawyer, they represented the college in an exemplary manner and brought the team and the school respect from all who came in contact with us. They continue that today. While they’re at different institutions, they still speak fondly of their time here and continue to come back and help our current team whenever they can. Their mascots might be Panthers and Tigers, but in my mind they will always be Chargers.