Leti Romero and Kindred Wesemann came to Kansas State because of the bond the two created with the coaching staff, especially former point guard Shalee Lehning, whose name hangs from the rafters of Bramlage Coliseum.
Now, the soon-to-be sophomore guards are moving on in their college career at K-State without the coaches who brought them to Manhattan and without the daily guidance from one of the Wildcats’ all-time greats in Lehning.
As expected, Mittie announced Tuesday during his introductory press conference at the West Stadium Center that Lehning will not be joining his staff and has elected to move on.
“I reached out to Shalee Lehning,” said Mittie, who addressed media and more than 100 fans in attendance to meet the coach. “She was one of my first phone calls. I recruited Shalee and I know how important she is to Kansas State women’s basketball. Shalee feels like she is going to go on and maybe do some other things — we had a good conversation.
“I told her to come back anytime.”
For Wesemann and Romero, losing Lehning hit home. The former All-American who served on Patterson’s staff the last five years was a big part of their recruitment to K-State, someone many felt could someday be in position to perhaps take over the program herself.
“My relationship with Shalee was getting to its peak at that point and it sucks that it was just broken off, but we still have contact and I know that I ever need anything, she wouldn’t hesitate to drop what’s she doing and help me,” said Wesemann, one of several players in attendance on Tuesday to support the new head coach.
“She’s really just a phone call away. I’ll still look up to her as a player and a coach — nothing has changed.”
Wesemann had just scored a career-high 18 points in K-State’s season-ending overtime loss to Kansas in the Big 12 tournament on March 7 — the last game for the Wildcats under Deb Patterson, who was fired later that night.
Patterson’s abrupt dismissal set the Wildcats on a path of uncertainty until Mittie was hired 10 days later after spending the last 15 years at TCU.
“The process was really tough, especially the first couple weeks,” said Wesemann, who ended the season with five straight games scoring in double figures. “It was really hard on us as a team.
“For like a week and a half, we didn’t know what to do, we were all lost, didn’t know where to go, didn’t have practice or weights or anything.”
Emotionally, Wesemann likened the coaching change to a divorce within a family.
“It was hard to let (the previous coaching staff) go because it was a family thing,” she said. “It was like your family just divorced — that’s what it feels like… We still have those ties with our coaches… We’re still a family.”
Helping make the transition a little easier will be Claire Coggins and Tasha Dickey. Mittie announced Tuesday that both have been retained after serving on Patterson’s staff in support positions the last two seasons. Mittie hopes to finalize the rest of his staff within a week.
“Having Claire and Tasha is a big thing for us — a relief just having them around still,” Wesemann said. “Familiar faces are always great to have.”
For Romero, the transition alone this past year was difficult after moving from Spain to Manhattan, while trying to grow accustomed to the Big 12 and college life. The All-Big 12 selection chose the Wildcats in large part because of Lehning and the special connection the two formed during the challenging long-distance recruitment process.
Losing Lehning was enough for Romero to question — at least for a moment — whether her future still included K-State.
“I’m not going to lie, she was one of the reasons I came here to Kansas State,” said Romero, who led the Wildcats in scoring, rebounds and assists this season. “I would love for her to be here, but she will be a great, great assistant coach or coach.”
But in the end, Romero said she wanted to wait and see who the new coach would be before making a decision.
“I came for the coaches, but when I met my teammates here — I’m so happy with them — we are a family,” she said. “When it happened, everything crosses your mind with a new coach. You don’t know anything, so there’s a lot of uncertainty, but I wanted to wait and see.”
Wesemann also had thoughts of leaving, at least initially.
“Right after we were told Coach P was fired, right then I was like, ‘where am I going to go?’” she said. “We all had to collect our thoughts and I don’t think anyone was really thinking in-depth about going anywhere, but of course, we all had those initial thoughts.”
Now the focus for the Wildcats — all of them, right now — is on the future.
“Working together and staying together was a big thing,” Wesemann said. “We’re all settled in and we like this coach and think he’s going to be great for us.
“Him coming in and wanting to get to work on the court has helped us a lot.”
Mittie, who held a couple short practices on Monday afternoon, said he could see from the TCU sidelines that this was a close-knit group at K-State, shown by their decision in the past three weeks to stay together.
“It says they love Kansas State and Manhattan and that’s evident when you talk to them, how much they love going to school here, how much they love the support of the fans, how much they care about the community,” he said.