When Olympia opened up its search for its next girls basketball coach this past summer, there was one thing that they were specifically looking for: commitment.
Over the last three seasons, the Titans have seen three different coaches come and go, so it makes sense why they would want a long-term hire.
Luckily for Athletic Director Kevin McElveen, the opening caught the eye of Gina Solano, who was looking to make a change in her teaching and coaching life.
“I really enjoyed my years at Ocoee — it was really enjoyable — but sometimes opportunities come up,” Solano said. “I felt like it was time for me to make a change — especially at Olympia, because I know the program has been solid for many, many years.”
Outside of July — a month that’s heavy with AAU ball — Solano has been a constant presence around the gym at Olympia and has put on several practices to get to know the girls on the team — three of whom have already played AAU ball under Solano.
Although it’s early on in the regular season — the Titans have only played two games thus far — Solano has made it clear to the girls that they need to be in the gym when they can make it, and has even shared tips that she once used when she was a player.
Along with a different style of practice, the weight room at the school has gotten a lot more use as of late. While the staying-in-shape aspect of the game is important for the team, these off-season practices are also a good place to build team chemistry, Solano said.
And during those early practices, Solano also got to speak to her new players and share her background in basketball — including her own experiences as a player watching coaches come and go.
“I felt like it was time for me to make a change — especially at Olympia, because I know the program has been solid for many, many years.”
— Gina Solano
“I explained to them I had the same experience in high school,” Solano said. “I had a different coach every year I played — actually, every year I played basketball, except for my junior college days. I can kind of relate with them a little bit — I know what the feeling is like to have a different coach every year.”
Fortunately for the girls on the Titans girls basketball team, they’re getting a coach who has long-time plans to keep Olympia going strong for the foreseeable future — and who has a long history in the sport itself.
After finishing off her playing career at Rollins College, Solano would take her first dive into coaching as she took on the role of assistant coach at the school before moving on to the high school ranks.
Following 14 years of coaching that spanned across four schools (Jones, Wymore, Lake Brantley and Winter Park), Solano ended up at Ocoee High, where’d she spend the longest span of her career (eight years total).
Her time at Ocoee was one of the most challenging for Solano, as the team managed to win only seven games in her first three seasons as coach.
“It was probably the hardest thing that I ever had to do in my whole life was to stick with it,” Solano said. “It was a lot of work there and it helped me grow a lot as a coach, because sometimes when you’re not talented (that) is when you learn the most.”
With those challenging — yet rewarding — years behind her, Solano believes that there’s a lot she can take from her time at Ocoee and put toward her new job at Olympia.
For Solano, everything now feels to be in order, and she is ready to finish her basketball career on a high note.
“I feel like everything happens for a reason and I feel like I’m at the right spot now,” Solano said. “My plan is to finish my career at Olympia and hopefully get them back to being one of the best programs in the area.”