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  • Writer's pictureGabriela Vitale

Hannah Homan - Making It Happen at Saginaw Valley

College campuses across America have a dozen or so players good enough to wear the colors of their school on the varsity court.

Some are on full scholarship, like in Division I, where the ultimate goal is March Madness. Others play for partial aid or nothing at all. Walk-ons and non-scholarship athletes get minutes at all levels of the college game.

But there’s another group of players on just about every campus in the country. You can see them in student recreation centers or intramural sports. They are athletes who love the game and want to keep it in their lives after their high school careers have ended. Many were high school all stars and some were grinders who just love the sport and will all their lives.

Hannah Homan is one of those and she’s made her own opportunity at Saginaw Valley State University. That she’s also helped others keep their passion for playing alive as a player-coach on the Cardinal club team is what makes her a different kind of basketball star.

Finding Her Level

Homan started as a pretty typical tale — a solid high school basketball player who always dreamed of playing at the next level.

Growing up about 10 miles from East Lansing, Michigan — home of Division I powerhouse Michigan State — Homan described her hometown of Haslett as “small but supportive.” She lived on the court for the Vikings and was a crucial support player for a good team. She didn’t put up big numbers, but she was a leader and embraced the role.

“By the time senior year came around, I remember Ella (McKinney) and I talking and saying in order for us to be successful, we need to take pride in this and be teammates people can look up to.” Homan said.

Beyond the team’s results, Haslett High provided an experience that made Homan’s high school years better, connecting her to her education and community.

“I remember pulling into my neighborhood after practice and parked my car and one of my neighbors came up to me with flowers in her hand and (said) ‘my husband and I love watching you guys,’” Homan said. “I just remember that being very special to me.”

When the season ended it was time to make her college decision but her academic aspirations were not aligned with her scholarship offers. She ultimately wanted to have as positive a college experience as the one she had in her small town upbringing.

“People were always like ‘I’m so glad I’m away from my parents and my hometown’ and I never felt that urge to get away,” Homan said.

Saginaw Valley and Grand Valley were her top two choices. Her cousin went to Saginaw Valley and told Homan that she would love the school and city. Homan wanted to expand herself and start a new little circle of life at a school where she didn’t know a lot of people.

Once she saw campus, she said she had a “this is the one” feeling.

Saginaw Valley offered nice residence halls and extra curriculars with which students could get involved. Saginaw Valley also features a strong exercise science program and a beautiful health and human services building, where she would take the majority of classes once she had logged her general education classes and was ready to engage heavily with her major.

Parking Lot of Destiny

Homan struggled to find friends and didn’t feel as if she was as involved as she had hoped during her first year in University Center. Then, as sophomore year rolled around and everyone got sent home due to COVID, her aspirations to get involved were fully washed away.

“I wasn’t an athlete so I had to redefine how I would get that same feeling of fulfillment basketball gave me,” Homan said. “I taught myself guitar and started to write and workout a lot”.

Her mindset completely changed and she was determined to go back to campus to make the most out of the last two years. Homan had decided to hang up her basketball shoes and focus on her academics, but her desire to get engaged brought basketball back into her life.

Back at campus for her junior year, Homan got a job as the health and wellness coordinator. Finally feeling like she was a part of her university, she started to recognize how she could get involved. Although she wasn’t involved with anything basketball related, she would still play on the side for fun.

That’s when one workout in the parking lot changed her whole college experience.

Homan enjoyed playing basketball for fun in a campus parking lot to get an extra workout in. Homan’s supervisor, SVSU Director of Campus Recreation Aaron Mowen, decided to join her and, during a conversation, Homan mentioned how she played basketball in high school. Mowen then suggested Homan start a club basketball program.

She didn’t think it was possible or have any idea how to go forward with it, but knew it would be something that could benefit not only her but the school.

Homan searched for a club to join and reached out for admission into the National Club Basketball Association. Many active teams were around Saginaw Valley and so she knew it would be a good fit.

“I remember thinking, like, am I in way over my head? I wasn’t involved in anything here before and now it’s like oh hey here you’re starting a club,” Homan said.

Luckily for Homan, Saginaw Valley’s Red Pride Picnic — an event where clubs go to recruit new members— offered her an opportunity to connect with other ballers looking for a home. For the introverted Homan, it was uncomfortable, but for hours she encouraged students to join the basketball club. The work paid off: 12 women showed to tryouts, so she had a full team and she knew exactly what she wanted.

“I established from the beginning this is going to be a no drama kind of team, I have enough to plan already,” Homan said, recalling her initial discussion with the other Cardinals. “I respect all of you guys and ask for the same in return, if nothing else I feel like this whole experience has made me be more assertive and I have realized my own capabilities.”

The Rise of Coach Hannah

As the season started and practices flowed, game-time arrived. The Cardinals’ first game was at Central Michigan, an hour away from University Center. Busses were scheduled to leave at 10 a.m., but logistics are rarely perfect.

Homan strolled to parking services before the team arrived to grab the keys, but the office was closed … bringing on a bit of panic. Campus police helped her unlock the door and the crisis was averted.

“In the moment it wasn’t funny but looking back at it I laugh,” Homan said.

The next panic kicked in when they saw the opponent: The Chippewas were huge.

“Uh, are you guys at the right game? This is a club team.” Homan thought.

Central Michigan had numerous extra chairs pulled along their sideline and five coaches to help. Saginaw Valley’s side was all family and Homan coaching.

The team went 1-1 in their double header and were completely “all in” from there on out.

“[Hannah's] mindset and work ethic has personally inspired me to never let go of a dream or a goal. Always work for what you want, it may not be easy, but she has proven it is possible.” said teammate Maggie Walk.

Homan’s teammates say they appreciate her but don’t always have to go up to her face and say it.

For every game the Cardinals use a “sub-in sheet” with every athlete’s name on it and the designated sub-in player. In one game, Homan came off the court, grabbed the sheet, and looked at the picture drawn in the corner of her with a message waiting for her: “I love you coach.”

“Having Hannah as a teammate and coach all in one is honestly really fun. We can express our thoughts on plays and joke around - the respect is there which has made the experience enjoyable for everyone,” Walk said. “We all know she is juggling a lot with school and planning for our team, and we couldn’t be more thankful.”

Homan says it’s what happens off the court that makes her the happiest. During the Christmas season the team did a Secret Santa and all the Cardinals got together to exchange gifts. When it was her turn, one of her teammates handed her a framed picture of the team that said, “Dear Coach.”

Homan said it is hard for her to hold back tears every time her teammates go out of their way to make sure she knew she was appreciated.

At home, her family offers support and praise.

“She just kind of came along and makes things happen - she’s a grinder, in school, academics, she exceeds every expectation I ever had for her, no credit for me.” said Beth Homan, Hannah’s mom. Hannah Homan also has a close relationship with her sister Emily, who is younger, but whom Hannah says she still looks up to and “not just because she’s 5-11.”

When Homan comes home, she and her grandpa meet up for breakfast to talk about school and basketball. He is a huge part of her life and offers reassurance and encouragement:

“Keep pursuing what you want to pursue, and whether it works out regardless, I will always be proud of you,” he said.

Homan wants to pursue her bachelor's degree in exercise science and to then work in corporate wellness or personal training. Through starting her own team, she now sees herself coaching even further than just her club, something she never would have considered previously.

“I have put a lot of work in myself and finally have a clear vision of what I want to do and how I want to impact people.” Homan said.

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