By Alex Byington

Killeen Daily Herald

Diane Konarik knows what it takes to be a head coach.

For the last several years, she's been performing many of the responsibilities usually designated for the position as the lead girls basketball assistant for Belton.

Finally, after more than a decade as the deputy member of the Lady Tigers coaching staff, Konarik has been promoted to the top job, accepting the head coaching position at Salado last month.

"I love it. I have very high expectations for Salado, very high expectations for myself," Konarik said by phone Monday.

Konarik's hiring was approved by the Salado ISD school board at its June meeting, filling a vacancy left by the departure of former Lady Eagles head coach Jeanette McKinney, who took an assistant coaching position at Leander Rouse.

"I thought it was a great fit, what we need at this time," said Salado athletic director Glenn Talbott, who has made 12 hires in his two years on the job, including six head coaches. "Her experience was a huge factor."

An assistant coach under former Belton coach Randy Bell for 11 years, and one more under first-year coach Brenda Gomez, Konarik got her first taste of running the show Monday when she began implementing offensive and defensive philosophies with her own assistants.

"I was in my atmosphere, I was in my love," said Konarik, who played three years at Mary Hardin-Baylor after two seasons at McLennan Community College. "This has been my dream for many years and now it's here."

Running the show in Salado, which drops back down to Class 2A after two years spent as one of the smallest 3A programs, will be in of itself a challenge.

"(It's) just getting to where now it's your name on the product, and that's probably going to be the biggest thing for her — putting her name, her mark, on her program and get everything exactly how she wants it," Talbott said. "That's probably one of the biggest adjustments she'll have (to deal with)."

Working under Bell for so long, Konarik spent the last five or six years as his right-hand assistant, often performing head coaching tasks Bell delegated to her. Konarik was often in charge of player rotation during games, filling out the book, setting the lineup and even creating the schedule each offseason.

"The only thing I did not have control over was the final X's and O's," she said.

As a 1995 graduate of West, a longtime 3A program, Konarik said she understands the mentality it takes to compete among the lower levels.

"I like those kind of challenges, you have to work with what you get, and I like to be pushed to the limit and see what I can get out of the kids and see the kids react with that light bulb above their head, understanding what to do and then enjoying what they're doing because they're winning with it," Konarik said.

McKinney leaves some big shoes to fill after the former college coach led the Lady Eagles to three straight playoff appearances, including back-to-back regional tournament appearances beginning with an improbable and injury-plagued run to the Region IV-3A finals in 2011.

"That's going to be a big challenge, that's probably going to be my biggest bump in the road, trying to get to and compete with where they've been," Konarik said.

Despite graduating all-state selections in 6-foot posts Carling Urben and Kirstie McGillick, the Lady Eagles (16-16) will have several returners coming back after McKinney used a bevy of underclassmen last season en route to the Region IV-3A quarterfinals.

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