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New basketball coach excited to be back at Washburn

Lora Westling posting outside Lee Arena

Lora Westling, bba ’05, mba ’07, poses outside Lee Arena prior to her first season as head coach. Photo by Jeremy Wangler

From The Ichabod - Fall 2022
By Angela Lutz

New Washburn University head women’s basketball coach Lora Westling is no stranger to success.

Nearly 20 years ago, Westling, bba ’05, mba ’07, helped the Lady Blues win Washburn’s first NCAA Division II national championship in 2005, cementing her place in the school’s history. A leader on the team, Westling called her four years playing basketball a transformational experience that put her on track for a coaching career.

“I didn’t want to be done with basketball when I was through playing, so once I got into my senior year and reflected on my career goals, I realized they were parallel with coaching: I wanted to impact people, make a difference, support and grow opportunities for women and stay competitive,” she said. “To use basketball as a vessel to do that – it just kind of fell into place. Eighteen years later I’m still coaching and absolutely love it.”

In her coaching career, Westling has continued her winning ways. Before coming back to Washburn this year, she served as head coach at Western Colorado University for six years and led the team to back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances – the first two in program history. She also spent three seasons as head coach at Illinois College. Still, it was Washburn’s unique campus culture and community that enticed Westling – a native of Casper, Wyoming – to return to Topeka.

“What makes Washburn special is the people and the holistic community you walk into, and that’s what brought me back,” she said. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to coach where I played. For us, it was the right time and the right place where we knew we would have that community to lean on. I feel very humbled and very honored to have the opportunity to take over the program.”

Loren Ferré, athletic director, Washburn Athletics, is excited to see Westling return. He has worked at the University for 27 years and remembers what Westling was like as a player – competitive, hardworking and tenacious, but always willing to put the team first. He takes pride in watching players grow and develop their athletic and academic skills, and Westling is no exception.

“She brings the same leadership qualities she had as a player into this role,” Ferré said. “She is passionate about Washburn, which certainly helps, but she has had head coaching experience, and she’s been a winner wherever she goes. In her programs, she’s always a people-first person. She creates an environment of high expectations for her players and she tries to empower them to be the best they can.”

When it comes to empowerment, Westling believes basketball is an ideal sport for helping young players develop their individual skills while also learning to work as a team. During her time at Washburn, she recalls the diversity and different perspectives of her teammates that melded seamlessly into the cohesive goal of winning and excellence when they were together on the court. Some of those women remain her closest friends today.

“Basketball involves strategy, but you also have to rely on instinct,” Westling said. “If you get with the right group of people and the right chemistry forms, it’s a very special sport to play. You start reading each other’s minds on the floor. You can have huge dramatic turns of score – games are literally never over until the final buzzer. There’s potential for your own individual skills to get better alongside your team.”

Westling loves the impact college sports can have. She looks forward to making Washburn feel like a second home to out-of-state students like it did for her. She also looks forward to reconnecting with old mentors such as Ferré, who expects Westling to bring the same passion and dedication she displayed as a player to her coaching role.

“It was fun to watch Lora as a player – she played hard and encouraged everyone around her to play hard,” Ferré said “We had a very talented team, but there still have to be leaders on the floor. She certainly displayed those qualities. It will be exciting to watch her as a coach as she takes over the program she once played for. It’s a great transition, and we are looking forward to great successes.”

Westling is also excited to uphold and enhance the winning attitude she sees in other teams and coaches at Washburn.

“We want excellence in all facets,” Westling said. “We want women in the program who are going to represent themselves, their families, Washburn and the Topeka community in a way that’s really respectful, honorable and inspirational for everyone – especially the young eyes that are watching them. We want to be part of that network and community that makes Washburn so special.”

Winter 2024 The Ichabod magazine cover with picture of the bell tower and snow fallen on campus

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