Cal (Pa.) athletic director looks back on volleyball career at Baldwin
A large portion of Dr. Karen Hjerpe’s life has revolved around volleyball.
Hjerpe has spent nearly 25 years as a member of the athletic department at Cal (Pa.). She is in her third year as Cal’s athletic director, after serving as interim athletic director for two-plus years.
Hjerpe’s background in athletics was rooted firmly in the sport of volleyball — at Baldwin High School.
During her 1986-87 senior year at Baldwin, Hjerpe, whose maiden name is Fetsko, was a key member of Baldwin’s first-ever WPIAL championship team in girls volleyball in coach Paul Hindes’ inaugural season at the helm.
“Volleyball had a tremendous impact on my life and career,” Hjerpe said. “I went on to play at Gannon University for four years. Once I graduated and moved back home, I was hired to start a volleyball program at Point Park. That connection came because the A.D. at Point Park called the volleyball coach at Gannon, and she had suggested (hiring) me since I was in the Pittsburgh area.
“So, I am at Point Park and working at PNC Bank, and California (Pa.) University calls my coach at Gannon and asks if she knows of anyone that would want to and could coach at Cal U. Their coach, Jing Pu, had left for Syracuse and they were less than a week from their preseason. She mentions my name and I quit my full-time job and my job at Point Park to become a full-time coach at Cal U. That is how volleyball got me into the door and how my athletic career began.”
Hjerpe, also Cal’s head compliance officer and former senior woman administrator, was inducted into the Baldwin Sports Hall of Fame following her volleyball career. She and teammate Olga Cambest were inducted together.
“It is such a tremendous honor to be recognized as part of the hall of fame,” Hjerpe said. “I have had the opportunity to be back at Baldwin over the past two years with my daughters, who are both playing volleyball. First, to see the high school immediately brought back memories of volleyball and playing. Second, my daughters played in a tournament there and took a picture of my plaque in the hall of fame.
“As my daughter hit her senior year and (her team) made the playoffs, you think back of how hard it really was to win a WPIAL championship and what a team goes through to get to that point. Not only that, but to advance in states as much as we did. We had a tremendous group of athletes on that team my senior year, and that year taught me so much about hard work — both mentally and physically.
“Some of my fondest memories at Baldwin were in my senior year; the friends that I made, the success we had as a team, and winning the WPIAL championship.”
A 1991 Gannon graduate, Hjerpe earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting/business from Gannon; master’s degrees in business administration and in exercise science/performance enhancement and injury prevention from Cal (Pa.); and a doctorate in instructional management and leadership from Robert Morris.
Hjerpe coached the Cal women’s volleyball team for five years from 1993-97 before assuming the position of athletic business manager. She was promoted to associate athletic director in 2003 before becoming interim athletic director in 2011.
“What I enjoy most about my position is working with over 350 student-athletes and watching them succeed both in the classroom and on the court or playing field,” Hjerpe said. “Our job is working with young adults to help prepare them for life when they leave. That is teaching them about training, making sure they are going to class, being responsible citizens, volunteering, making good nutritional choices, etc.
“I am very fortunate to have a tremendous group of coaches and staff that also believe in that philosophy and work tirelessly with their teams. They are the ones that make it all happen.”
Hjerpe, who attended the NCAA Convention held Jan. 17-20 in Indianapolis, lives in Venetia and is the mother of three children. Her son, Todd, is a sophomore mechanical engineering major at Purdue, and her daughters, Brooke and Erin, are student-athletes at Peters Township.
The Baldwin-Peters Township volleyball connection is a strong one.
Brooke Hjerpe is a 5-foot-9 senior outside hitter and all-section selection; Erin Hjerpe is a 5-8 freshman setter. They are coached by Baldwin graduates Ashley Green and Nicole Oakes, a volunteer assistant. Green and Oakes are former Baldwin netters, and Green, who coached Oakes in high school, is in the Baldwin Sports Hall of Fame.
Also, Baldwin’s girls volleyball coach Chris Kelly is a Baldwin graduate who formerly coached the boys volleyball program at Peters Township. He still teaches in the Peters Township School District. And the PT boys volleyball coach is Baldwin grad Nathan Swauger. One of Swauger’s assistants the past two years has been Greg Hillard, another Baldwin product.
“Ashley’s aunt, Lynda Scahill, was my assistant when I played at Baldwin my senior year,” Hjerpe said. “Lynda also had Paul Hindes as a coach during her career. I think the winning mentality, the hard work, and wanting each player to succeed is what we all share in common.
“Nicole Oakes now coaches my younger daughter on her club team. I volunteer with Pittsburgh Elite and with both of my daughter’s teams — Brooke is on 18 Elite and Erin is on 15 Premier — so I get to see Nicole, Ashley and Lynda weekly. The love of volleyball and wanting each player to succeed is what commonality we have. We all want to give back to the game, and that is something I admire in the people that I work with there.”
Hjerpe, who is one of only three volleyball coaches in Cal school history with 100-plus career wins, oversees 18 intercollegiate programs. In her two-plus years as athletic director, Cal has earned one NCAA national championship, nine PSAC titles, and multiple top-three finishes in the PSAC Dixon Trophy standings.
Additionally, the Vulcans recorded the department’s highest cumulative GPA on record during the 2016 spring semester at 3.221, and have featured more than 260 conference scholar-athletes over the past two seasons.
Ray Fisher is a freelance writer.