Circleville’s Coach K reflects on coaching career

By Brad Morris

With a good chunk of his family living in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, it was a time of choosing for Steve Kalinoski.

Either continue to coach girls basketball for the Circleville Tigers or step aside so he would have more time to travel down to the Palmetto State.

“The bottom line is my mom and dad, my sister and my brother all live down in Myrtle Beach, so I decided two years ago that this would be the time that I would step aside from coaching,” Kalinoski said. “I had to be all in if I was going to continue to coach, because the girls deserve that, so outside of a couple of dead periods, coaching girls basketball is pretty much a year-round job.

“It’s a job that I still like, but I’m fortunate to still have my parents alive who are 88 and 80. I want to be able to take a number of trips down there to see them at different times during the year, to see the rest of my family who live down there and also to do some golfing. The time was right.”

Kalinoski coached the girls basketball team at Circleville in two separate stints for a total of 10 seasons, guiding the Tigers to a 179-57 record with five Mid-State League Buckeye Division championships, five district final appearances – winning three district titles – and a regional runner-up finish.

A graduate of Oak Hill High School in southern Jackson County, where Kalinoski began his coaching career 42 years ago, he was also named league coach of the year five times, district coach of the year four times and Division II state coach of the year in 2008 and 2020.

Former Circleville coach Steve Kalinoski talks with sophomore guard Gabby McConnell during a game this season. John Howley/

“I started coaching before I went to college back at Oak Hill and then I spent 15 years at Westfall and 19 here at Circleville,” Kalinoski said. “I’ve been fortunate to have good players to coach, support from their parents, good coaches around me on the staff and support from the administration.”

With Circleville mired in budget cuts that forced staffing cuts, due to a failed levy, Kalinoski was approached about the possibility of taking over the girls basketball program for the 2005-06 season.

“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to get back into being a head coach at that point, because I coached boys basketball for four years out at Westfall and didn’t have a lot of success,” Kalinoski said. “My older daughter Katelyn was in the program, Casse Mogan was a sophomore at that point and, overall, there was a lot of young talent in the program.”

As offensive coordinator for the football team under head coach Keith Downing, Kalinoski wanted to bring a more physical, tougher approach for the Tigers on the hardwood.

“At that point, Fairfield Union and Miami Trace were the top two teams in the district, so I told the girls we had to get tougher if we wanted to compete and beat teams like that,” Kalinoski said. “In our very first practice, we were working on taking charges, which is something I was not sure they had ever done before, and Katelyn took a charge and landed with a crack in her head that took seven staples to close.

“We wanted to be a solid defensive team and that went with our core message of play hard, have fun and win games.”

And the Tigers won plenty of games.

Circleville won three straight league titles and a pair of district championships in 2006 and 2008 during Kalinoski’s first stint as head coach from 2006-09. After serving five seasons as varsity assistant, Kalinoski began his second stint as head coach during the 2016-17 season. The Tigers won the district in 2020 and advanced to the regional final for the first time in program history. The Tigers also won the league in 2020 and again in 2021.

“I’ve been blessed to have some very good teams here at Circleville,” Kalinoski said. “Obviously, 2020 stands out for being ranked No. 1 in the (Associated Press) state poll, having an undefeated regular-season and getting all the way to the regional final. The way the community came behind and supported us was special.

“A lot of people are surprised when I say 2007 may have been my best team in Casse Mogan’s junior year when Katelyn and Lacey Reedy were both seniors. We were ranked high (fourth in the state) and only lost one game all season, but we had an off-shooting day in the sectional final and Court House upset us (35-34). We beat them by almost 40 points during the regular-season, but they had some sickness and stuff going on where they only had a couple of practices in two weeks leading into the game. I knew they were a lot better than that and, unfortunately, they caught us on an off night.”

Kenzie McConnell, a four-time All-Ohioan and two-time district player of the year now in her freshman season at Ashland University, reflected on the impact playing for Circleville’s Coach K had on her.

“It was a joy and a privilege to play for Coach K. He was so bought in to his players and the Circleville girls basketball program,” she said. “He would do just about anything to make sure his players were taken care of.

“His philosophy was so simple, “work hard and have fun”. Coach K was always humble and he always had your back. I’m super thankful that I got to play for Coach K and share in so many memories.”

A link to the two stints for Kalinoski was coaching a pair of first-team All-Ohio players in Mogan (Class of 2008) and McConnell (Class of 2021).

“People ask me which player was the best, but they were two different-type players with Casse being a guard and Kenzie in the post,” Kalinoski said. “Both were exceptional players and hard-workers. Casse set the all-time school scoring record and then Kenzie broke that during her career. I was fortunate to be able and coach two exceptional players like that.”

Kalinoski credited Downing for part of his coaching philosophy with having assistant coaches more involved than they might be on other coaching staffs.

“Keith taught me that it was important to have a good staff and that you should get them involved and delegate responsibility to them,” he said. “As offensive coordinator, I was allowed to call a lot of the offense.

“I’ve been fortunate to have some good assistants over the year. Evan Callihan has been with me for 11 years, Jill McFarlan for seven and then you go back to earlier coaches I worked with like Brian Bigam, Colleen Beatty, Bobby Lombardo and I’m probably leaving out a few. That’s been part of the success we’ve had over the years.”

The Tigers had their only losing season during Kalinoski’s tenure this season, going 10-13. The cupboard is hardly bare, however, with the Tigers returning most of their starting lineup, including guards Gabby McConnell and Faith Yancey, and an eighth-grade team that won the league championship joining the fold in 2022-23.

“The program is in a good spot for the next coach,” Kalinoski said. “We have a good group of kids coming back and we have two good classes coming up with our eighth and seventh graders.”

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