Growing up in Soldotna, Molly Tuter had some pretty well-defined career goals.
"My two goals growing up were to play (NCAA) Division I college basketball and play professional basketball, and to coach Division I college basketball and eventually be a head coach," said Tuter in a phone interview earlier this month.
Tuter crossed the first part off her to-do list several years ago. After leading Soldotna High School to a state girls basketball championship as a senior in 1993, Tuter went on to become a four-year varsity player for the Arizona State Sun Devils and a member of the Phoenix Mercury of the WNBA. Tuter also played professionally in Luxembourg.
Tuter fulfilled the second part of her career goal just recently when she was named interim head coach at the University of California Irvine on Dec. 27, taking over for Mark Adams, who resigned after the team started 0-7.
"It's always been one of my goals to be a head coach, though I did not necessarily want to get my first job due to someone resigning," Tuter said. "But if an opportunity lands in your lap, you're going to take full advantage of it."
Tuter said that with the team not playing well, Adams' resignation wasn't totally unexpected. But she said she was still surprised by the turn of events.
The Anteaters lost their first two games with Tuter at the helm, but the squad picked up its first victory of the season against the University of San Diego in her third game as head coach. UC Irvine picked up its second win of the season Saturday, a 75-74 victory over Cal State-Fullerton, and now is 2-12 overall.
Since taking the reins as head coach, Tuter said she's been putting in long hours, getting into the office by 5:30 in the morning.
"It was a little overwhelming due to the volume of stuff I had to do in the first week, but it's settling down now. I'm getting into a groove a little bit," Tuter said.
Tuter said her experience as an assistant coach - two years working for Kathy Olivier at UCLA and four-plus seasons with Adams at Irvine - left her well-prepared to step into the head job.
When she entered the coaching profession, Tuter said she had a good understanding of how to run a team on the court. Tuter said there's a lot more that goes into being a head coach, though, and she's still learning the job.
"Basketballwise, I had a pretty good understanding. The rest of it is a huge learning curve, understanding what goes into running a Division I program," Tuter said.
The program management skills she's had to learn include everything from getting recruits admitted to school and making sure student-athletes make it to study hall to learning how to work with lots of different personalities.
"Then there's all the paperwork that goes into it, and the scouting," Tuter said.
On the court, Tuter said there's been a change in energy as she tries to instill new ideas about how to win basketball games.
"I focus a lot on trying to boost their confidence and getting them to feel good about themselves," Tuter said of her approach with her players. "I focus mostly on us and what we're doing."
Tuter attributed her desire to become a Division I head coach to her competitive nature, something she said she got from her father, Mark - currently the Soldotna girls basketball coach - as well as Dan Gensel, her high school basketball coach.
As for the future, Tuter said she'd like to see the "interim" removed from her title at UC Irvine.
"I would love to have that opportunity," Tuter said. "If we do well this year, I believe, hopefully, I'll be here for a while."
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