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For St. Francis coach Samantha Quigley, 24, there’s no place like home

SamanthQuigley (left) is congratulated by DePaul women’s head coach Doug Bruno older sister Allie after Quigley was introduced as new

Samantha Quigley (left), is congratulated by DePaul women’s head coach Doug Bruno and older sister Allie after Quigley was introduced as the new women’s basketball coach at the University of St. Francis in Joliet. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: August 2, 2012 10:38AM

Christine Quigley knew something was wrong when she spoke by phone with her youngest daughter, Samantha, who seemed like she was a million miles away in Hungary last fall.

A former standout basketball player at Joliet Catholic High School and DePaul, Samantha Quigley was waiting for her older sister, Allie, to join her in Europe. They were going to play on the same Hungarian team, but it was getting harder for Samantha to be patient as Allie finished up her duties with the WNBA’s Seattle Storm.

Samantha also wasn’t exactly healthy, having pulled a hamstring.

‘‘Sam is a person that likes to be around family,’’ her mother said. ‘‘It was a good three weeks [that she’d been in Hungary], and she was really struggling. We were hoping she’d be able to hold on for Allie to get there.

‘‘But after a while I told her, ‘Just come home.’ Going overseas isn’t for everybody.’’

Samantha, 24, must be happy things in Hungary didn’t work out. On May 24, she was named head women’s basketball coach at the University of St. Francis, about six blocks from her childhood home in Joliet.

Neither the school’s location nor Quigley’s age are the most significant aspects of her hire. Quigley’s parents, Christine and the late Pat Quigley, were star athletes at USF, and both are in the school’s hall of fame. Christine Quigley’s women’s basketball jersey was retired in 1983; the basketball court is named Pat Quigley Court.

‘‘This means everything to me because [St. Francis] has been like my second home,’’ Samantha Quigley said. ‘‘I did get [emotional] when I found out I was hired. I was up at DePaul when I found out.’’

Quigley never really had a Plan  B after she left Hungary. St.  Francis was in a flux and looking for a women’s coach when Quigley applied in early September. Athletic director Dave Laketa opted for an interim coach in Brian Michalak, who’s also the St. Francis baseball coach and Quigley’s uncle.

‘‘You’re not going to find a head coach in the middle of September,’’ Laketa said.

Quigley came on as Michalak’s assistant, and he put Quigley in charge of recruiting and scouting. Though there was no permanent coach lined up and no guarantee that Quigley would even be around the next season, she was able to recruit and sign three players.

‘‘People get so focused on the sport, but I told them that getting an education here was the most important thing,’’ Quigley said.

After a two-month interview process, Laketa did the obvious and hired Quigley.

‘‘Her name is so big in this community and in the East Suburban Catholic Conference,’’ where Joliet Catholic is a member, Laketa said. ‘‘I’ve had an ESCC coach say, ‘Why did you even do a coaching search when you’ve got Sam?’ ”

Christine Quigley likes to joke that Samantha is the only one of her four children who ‘‘has a real job.’’ Allie is playing in Hungary, eldest son Ryan is pitching in the San Diego Padres’ organization for Lake Elsinore in the A-Advanced California League, and youngest son Jacob just graduated from St.  Francis, where he played tennis.

Coaching at St. Francis has brought Samantha Quigley full circle. She was a standout prep player, excelled in college and attempted a pro career. While the European experience didn’t work out, it’s at least another notch on her résumé.

‘‘I went to Hungary because I owed it to myself, but I already knew I wanted to get into coaching,’’ Quigley said. ‘‘I really was homesick, and I wasn’t comfortable there, but I don’t regret any decision I’ve made.’’

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