Valdosta State introduces Chandler Merkerson at press conference

Apr. 24—VALDOSTA — "I'm going to coach you hard, and I'm going to love you harder," said new Valdosta State University head women's basketball coach, Chandler Merkerson to her new squad.

VSU introduced Merkerson Wednesday afternoon in a press conference. She succeeds Deandra Schirmer who resigned two weeks ago to become head coach at UT-Chattanooga.

"I am going to run this program with integrity and I'm going to serve you guys with humility," Merkerson said. "We're going to have a lot of fun."

Merkerson thanked her family in attendance at the press conference, VSU's administration, as well as athletic director Herb Reinhard. She thanked coaches who gave her opportunities over the years.

Reinhard noted Merkerson is the 33rd head coach hired across all Blazers sports during his tenure. The program's history of success extends much further. Included in those kudos was to former Lady Blazers head coach, Carley Kuhns, under whom Merkerson worked as an assistant at VSU from 2017-2019.

"Carley took a chance on me very early in my career," said Merkerson. "She didn't know me and I didn't know her and she gave me an opportunity ... She never stopped believing in me. She's been incredibly instrumental to my growth as a woman and a coach."

After her time at VSU, Merkerson worked with Kuhns at Samford University for four years. Last year she was associate head coach at the University of North Florida.

She talked about the Lady Blazers' outstanding 2023-24 season. "You all were incredible to watch," she said of the Gulf South champions.

VSU will work and play hard, said Merkerson. She thanked them for the opportunity to coach them. Merkerson said she defined success in many ways — on the hardwood, in the classroom (with a goal of a 100% graduation rate) and as "fearless leaders."

Merkerson said she wanted to "build complete young women."

The people in Valdosta were a big reason she decided to start her head coaching career here, she said. Not everywhere has the support of VSU women's basketball. "There's no mistake why this program has had so much success."

"Everyone who wears the red and black loves it here," she said.

Merkerson noted the upcoming season will be its 50th anniversary. Reinhard spoke of the early days of the program in his introduction, when Valdosta State was a national powerhouse in the AIAW, which sponsored women's athletics before the NCAA began holding their own tournaments.

"Valdosta State was not a Division II power, not a regional power," said Reinhard. "Valdosta State was a national power," that competed with the likes of Georgia, Maryland, Alabama and Tennessee. "There was no Division I, Division II or Division III," he said. "It was AIAW sports."

Even after playing women's hoops under the NCAA banner, Valdosta State has remained a force. The 2023-24 campaign offered plenty of proof, with the Lady Blazers going 30-3, winning the Gulf South title and hosting the NCAA Division II South Region tournament at The Complex.

"That success has transferred through a number of very successful head coaches," Reinhard said. He said he's been asked about Merkerson.

Reinhard said he's known Merkerson for some time, noting her previous stint at VSU as an assistant. Under Kuhns, "I was very impressed with the job she did when she was here at Valdosta State," he said. "I've watched her grow professionally, with Carley at Samford, and this year at the University of North Florida."

He remembered a dinner at El Toreo long ago, where Reinhard came away impressed with Merkerson's knowledge of basketball, passion for players, "and her passion for this institution.

"She's not an alum," he said. "But she thinks she is."

Not only does Reinhard see Merkerson becoming very successful here, but he sees the community fully embracing her. Reinhard told the players they would love playing for her.