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Sports Person of the Week
Finnerty Overjoyed to Join Warriors’ Coaching Staff
Chester resident Kristina Finnerty recently began her first season as an varsity assistant and the JV head coach for the girls’ basketball team at Valley Regional. (Photo courtesy of Kristina Finnerty)
Kristina Finnerty has had a passion for athletics for a long time. Kristina played soccer and basketball at Tolland High School and has also served as both a coach and a basketball official at the rec level in Chester.
Kristina’s love of basketball reached new heights as she was raising her children Lexie and Travis. Kristina started to appreciate the sport that much more while traveling to their games and practices. This winter, Kristina is beginning a new chapter in the sport as she’s in her first season as a varsity assistant coach and the JV head coach with the Valley Regional girls’ basketball team.
Kristina learned a great deal from her experience as an athlete. Now, she’s looking to pass on what she’s learned to the next generation of Valley basketball players.
“I was fortunate to have excellent coaching, and my high school soccer team was undefeated for three seasons with three state championships. As I look back, I realize that winning is a mentality that every coach and team member has to buy into,” says Kristina, who also played soccer in college. “We had to be mentally tough at all times. We knew that every team was bringing their A-game to stop our record.”
Valley Head Coach Jaimie Bickelhaupt emphasizes mental toughness on the court. That’s one of the biggest reasons why Kristina, a Chester resident, signed up for the job with the Warriors.
“Our coach would have us sit in her classroom, put our heads down, and listen to the same music before every game. It was our time to focus on the game and be mentally prepared,” Kristina says. “As I look back, that is something I feel is very important in sports. I was so excited to see that Coach Bickelhaupt incorporates mental preparedness activities with the team.”
Kristina joined the Valley girls’ hoops squad a few practices into the 2021 season, and Coach Bickelhaupt says that she immediately fit in with the team. Bickelhaupt credits Kristina for helping the Warriors jell on the court through the early goings of the campaign.
“It’s not easy coming into a program not knowing anyone and being comfortable with a new team and new coach as the season is going on. She came in willing to learn from me and, because of that, has been an asset to the team in different ways,” Bickelhaupt says of Kristina. “She’s learning our system quickly and implementing it with the JV girls’ team. She’s been very easy to work with and eager to learn more about the game, our culture we’re building, and how she can help. I’m excited to see where our program goes from here with her on staff.”
When she wasn’t playing or coaching sports, Kristina worked as a banker after graduating from college. After opening her first branch as a manager, Kristina realized just how much she was able to use the skills that she had gained from playing sports in the professional world.
“I coached my employees on reaching our sales and profitability goals. I worked on their weaknesses and utilized their strengths. We all worked as a team to achieve our goals and get that bonus,” says Kristina. “I left banking when I got pregnant with Lexie to be a stay-at-home mom. Years later, I started working for the Chester Park and Recreation [Department] as a sports director. I currently work the summer camp, sports clinics, and coach and referee recreational basketball.”
Kristina is overjoyed to be a part of the Warriors’ program. She feels thankful to have that opportunity while working alongside both Coach Bickelhaupt and Valley’s athletes.
“She is a talented, strong coach, and I love how the girls respond to her,” says Kristina of Bickelhaupt. “The girls are so much fun to work with. They are all very talented and hardworking. They are a special group. My daughter played with the juniors and seniors, so it is very exciting to see how they have grown and matured as players and young leaders. I look forward to coaching and watching the underclassmen develop their basketball and leadership skills.”
Kristina’s daughter Lexie finished her Valley career as one of the best players in program history. Lexie scored more than 1,000 points with the Warriors, earned All-Shoreline Conference First Team honors three-straight years, and went on to play basketball for Nichols College in Massachusetts.
With her daughter having carved out quite a legacy, Kristina is now looking to follow in Lexie’s footsteps by being the best coach that she can possibly be at Valley Regional.
“My expectations for the team will always be to work hard, support each other, and always be mentally prepared. I want them to enjoy the game of basketball and have fun,” Kristina says. “I believe that all sports are an extension of the classroom. There are so many life lessons and skills that the girls will bring with them into their adult and professional lives. This builds them into our future leaders. I truly feel honored to be a part of the Valley girls’ basketball program.”