Ever since she was a grade school basketball player at St. Bernard’s, Jackie Hartzell knew she eventually wanted to coach.

A lot of that, she said, was influenced by her father, Rich, then a St. Bernard’s assistant to Joe Kelly.

“It was a special time,” said Hartzell. “We had a lot of really good players on that team and won a lot of games. For me, though, the best part was being around my dad. Watching the way he helped out had a huge, huge impact on me.”

Come November, Hartzell will become one of the youngest head coaches in Catholic League history. After assisting at her alma mater, St. Hubert’s, for one year and then at Archbishop Wood for the past two seasons, the 24-year-old Hartzell was hired as the new varsity girls basketball coach at Archbishop Ryan.

Although she loves the summer months and has been keeping busy working as an acquisitions specialist for the federal government while coaching Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) ball, Hartzell admits that she wishes she could fast-forward the calendar to Nov. 17, the day the season officially begins.

“Definitely,” she said. “I’m so excited about this. I feel really, really fortunate to have an opportunity like this at such a young age.”

While at Hubert’s, Hartzell played both guard and forward and was named a second-team All-Catholic in her senior year. Interestingly, her success in basketball was trumped by her stellar performance in tennis.

As both a junior and senior doubles team standout, Hartzell and her partners were recognized with post-season hardware. But while she enjoyed playing tennis, it was basketball that stirred her inner passions.

“I love the game,” she said. “I loved playing it and I love coaching it. I hope it’s something I get to do for the rest of my life.”

Much of Hartzell’s enthusiasm stems from hoops having always been a family affair. Her parents, Rich and Pat, attended just about every game she ever played in grade school, high school and Delaware Valley College in Doylestown. Her only sibling, Kim, also played at both St. Bernard’s and St. Hubert’s. Now 21 and the women’s basketball manager at St. Joseph’s University, Kim Hartzell will coach the junior varsity team at Ryan and assist the varsity.

While her father won’t assist on the bench, Jackie Hartzell is looking forward to rehashing games and breaking down some tape with her dad throughout the season.

“He could have gone further with coaching if he had wanted,” she said. “But he was content with just helping out coaching us.”

Although Ryan has always been a consistent post-season contender under former coach John Farrington, the Ragdolls are in the same Northern spanision with several tough opponents, one of which is Archbishop Wood.

While assisting at Wood, the Vikings lost to Cardinal O’Hara in the 2007 championship and to Archbishop Carroll in the 2008 semifinals. Hartzell raved about her experience at Wood, citing head coach Jim Ricci and assistant coach John Gallagher as significant mentors.

“Wood has a great program,” said Hartzell. “I was very lucky to have been a part of it. I learned so much in my two years there.”

John Knebels can be reached at jknebs@aol.com.