Family over everything: NCAAs a reunion for Meier and Kieger
By TIM REYNOLDS
Mar. 15, 2017
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) — The first congratulatory text Miami coach Katie Meier got after it was revealed her Hurricanes were hosting NCAA Tournament games this weekend was from one of her best friends.
The sender was Danielle Kieger.
She's the mom of Marquette coach Carolyn Kieger.
"Not my mother. Her mother sends the first text," Meier said. "We're family. Our families are family. That's who we are."
So this weekend, there's going to be a family reunion in Coral Gables. Miami is hosting first- and second-round NCAA games, and Marquette is one of the teams coming in — meaning Kieger is coming home. Her coaching career started as an assistant under Meier in Miami, and she spent six years there before her alma mater asked her to take over that program in 2014.
They have remained extremely close, vacation together in the summers at a lake house in South Carolina, texting in good times and bad, even spending time on the phone Tuesday because Kieger had questions for her mentor — and potential opponent.
"I know I'm where I'm at today because of her," Kieger said. "I know everything that I have in this profession, I can thank her for because she gave me the chance and she taught me so much. I can't even describe the amount of respect and thankfulness I have for her."
Fourth-seeded Miami opens NCAA play against Atlantic Sun champion Florida Gulf Coast on Saturday afternoon, after fifth-seeded Big East champion Marquette meets Metro Atlantic champion Quinnipiac in the early game. If the seeds hold, Meier vs. Kieger — a matchup neither has ever wanted to schedule — would go head to head on Monday in a second-round matchup.
"It's crazy. Crazy," Meier said.
The selection show Monday night was a surreal experience for both Meier and Kieger. Both learned their fates at the same moment: No. 5 Marquette appeared on the screen first, but that slide also showed that the Golden Eagles were playing in Coral Gables — so it was obvious Miami was the No. 4 seed in that region.
The reaction of two Miami guards seated nearest to Meier, both of whom were coached by Kieger, told the story.
"We're hosting!" Jessica Thomas shouted.
"Kiegs!" Adrienne Motley said, simultaneously.
In Milwaukee, Kieger said she immediately got chills at the realization.
"When it came up and I saw Coral Gables, I knew Miami was going to be the 4 seed underneath," Kieger said. "And my stomach kind of dropped. Unbelievable."
So is the story of how Meier and Kieger got together in the first place.
Meier was coaching at Charlotte, Kieger a standout guard for Marquette, when both schools were members of Conference USA. Meier loved the way Kieger played, and after one Marquette-Charlotte game, Meier stopped in the handshake line to have a conversation with Golden Eagles coach Terri Mitchell.
"I said, 'Terri, I don't know that kid, but if she ever wants to coach, you tell her that I'm hiring her,'" Meier said.
When Meier got to Miami, she found Kieger an administrative role. Kieger went back to Marquette when Mitchell had an operations director opening, an upgrade over her Miami job. Meier let her go, with one condition: Mitchell would have to send her back if Miami had an assistant-coach gig open up before Marquette did.
That's what happened.
Kieger returned to Coral Gables, and now she's a budding star. Marquette won nine games in her first season as head coach, 14 games in her second — and brings a 25-7 record into this weekend.
"The fact that I get to coach in front of her for my first NCAA game is pretty neat," Kieger said. "I don't think she's seen me coach in person and the fact that she's obviously going to be there and it's on her home floor, I think it's pretty special."
It isn't just Kieger retracing some roots this weekend.
Marquette assistant coach Vernette Skeete spent three years with the Hurricanes, working under Meier. Marquette director of program development Rachel Sander and women's basketball operations director Pam Brown held support roles at Miami — and Brown was the first player Meier ever recruited to play for her at Charlotte. Video coordinator Rob Carver is a Miami graduate and was a practice player and manager for the Hurricanes.
"We'll enjoy Miami," Kieger said. "Half of my staff worked at Miami. So it'll be an easy trip for us to plan, I'll tell you that."