Burgess creates family atmosphere for women’s basketball

GVL Archive / Brian Sevald
Womens basketball head coach Janel Burgess

GVL Archive / Brian Sevald Women’s basketball head coach Janel Burgess

Derek Wolff

There is a reason the Grand Valley State University women’s basketball team is undefeated through its first six games of the 2010-11 season.

In her fourth season at the helm of the program, GVSU head coach Janel Burgess preaches a family atmosphere that draws the players closer together. The 34-year-old coach also hosted a team Thanksgiving party and plans on getting everyone together for Christmas as well.

“(Coach Burgess) is a motherly figure with a great basketball intelligence,” said senior forward Kara Crawford. “She’s a really good role model and overall a really good person.”

For Burgess, basketball has played a key role in her life since a fourth grade gym class. The Millersburg, Iowa native was a four-year starter at Iowa State University, where she was twice elected to the All-Big 12 team and led the Cyclones to two NCAA Tournament appearances. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, Burgess went on to coaching jobs at the University of Maine, Michigan State University, Missouri State University and Northern Illinois University.

Since coming to GVSU in 2007, Burgess has led the program to a 54-32 overall record through her first three seasons.

“We are very excited and pleased to have (Burgess) as our leader for women’s basketball,” said Director of Athletics Tim Selgo. “She and her staff have worked very hard to produce the results they have earned.”

Citing her former coach at Iowa State, Bill Findley, as well as current Duke women’s basketball coach Joanne P. McCallie and GVSU men’s basketball coach Ric Wesley as mentors, Burgess said she has embraced a family system and compassionate attitude amongst her pupils and coaching staff.

“Coaching is coaching the game of life, if not the X’s and O’s,” she said. “All of us who work hard need to know our kids to be the best we can be. We love Grand Valley, love our kids and love the community.”

Senior guard Elizabeth Van Tiflin said Burgess has maintained a fun, caring atmosphere both on and off the court.

“She’s a great coach and a great leader, but an even greater person who’s more focused on the personal aspect,” Van Tiflin said. “She’s always invited us over and opened up her house to us and serves as our mom away from home.”

Burgess’ philosophy emphasizes the student in student-athlete and focuses on the growth and development of her team at a personal level.

“The most rewarding part of my job is watching the girls grow as students and young athletes at GVSU,” she said. “They overcome challenges together and have a love for each other as well as a family attitude that has helped them continue to grow.”

For Crawford, Burgess’ arrival at GVSU meant the start of something good. After being recruited by a coaching staff that would be gone by the start of her senior season in high school, Crawford was not sure if GVSU was the right place for her, but Burgess made the extra effort to convince Crawford to become a member of the Lakers.

“It was really nice because she wasn’t even the one who had recruited me,” Crawford said. “She came to some of my games and I really liked her personality – everything really clicked. Just showing me that she made that drive and her passion for the game was really important.”

Burgess’ passion on the court and compassion off has invigorated a talented squad by creating a trusting relationship between everyone involved.

“She’s got a quirky sense of humor and can be a comic relief,” Van Tiflin said. “She can also be very animated, and you can see her passion when we’re playing.”

[email protected]