Brookwood grad Katie Mehlhorn is in her first season as an assistant girls basketball coach at Parkview, where she works as a counselor. Mehlhorn played basketball at Brookwood and at Appalachian State University under her maiden name, Mallow. She lives in Decatur with her husband, J.D. Mehlhorn, the head strength and conditioning coach for Olympic sports at Georgia State University.
In this edition of “Getting to Know…”, Mehlhorn talks with sports editor Will Hammock about her career, meeting her husband in a weight room, her current basketball skill level and more.
WH: Since we talked for stories in high school, where have you been? What’s the journey been like?
KM: Yeah, it’s been a journey. I left Brookwood in 2011 and went to Appalachian State and played there for four years. I had two coaching staffs while I was there. I stayed with the second staff as a graduate assistant for two years. I was getting my master’s in counseling, so that was awesome. I really enjoyed Boone and North Carolina. I got married that summer of 2017 and then went to Connecticut for two years. My husband’s in college coaches. He worked at UConn in strength and conditioning for football. I worked at a high school in Connecticut and coached there for two basketball seasons. I was the head JV coach and varsity assistant. It was a small school, so a staff of two. I liked it. In 2019, the end of that year we came down to Atlanta. … We didn’t have any family up in Connecticut. He’s originally from Minnesota. He started looking everywhere and had multiple interviews all over the country and I started emailing people down here.
WH: You just wanted to come back?
KM: Exactly. I thought I could have a good chance of getting a counseling job in Gwinnett County, just being familiar with people. In Connecticut, it was so hard. Emailing principals cold and not being from the state, there’s just no history. Being from Gwinnett County, it’s so nice to email principals where I recognize their names. There was a long process. I talked to (principal) Bo Ford at Brookwood and Mr. (David) Smith here, we have some family ties with him, my mom knows Mr. Smith’s wife. … We got down here and settled in May of last year. I started subbing at Parkview just to make some money. Through that, I built some relationships. I told Mr. Smith when I started subbing if you had a counseling position become available I would be interested. He didn’t know his allotment for the next year. He did (need a counselor) and that’s how I landed here. And last summer I talked to (Parkview head girls coach) Cynthia Cooper about basketball. She knew who I was and she asked if I was wanting to be on staff and I told her definitely. She asked if I wanted to do JV or ninth grade and I told her I really like doing varsity, and she told me I could be the varsity assistant. It was awesome. It’s been really nice. In the day, I’m a ninth-grade counselor only so I half half the ninth grade. We have another ninth-grade counselor, too. There are a lot of students. I have over 450 that are technically on my case load. It’s really nice. This is what I studied, so it’s nice to actually get to do it. The second half of my day is completely opposite with basketball. It’s nice.
WH: So did your husband find a job down here, too?
KM: Yes. Throughout all this at Parkview, he was still interviewing and we thought we were about to go to Iowa for a little bit. We didn’t, which I’m happy about because my family is down here. But he’s at Georgia State. He is the director of strength and conditioning for Olympic sports. So he does everything but football. He has four strength coaches kind of underneath him that he works with and they have all the sports divided up. My husband gets to do women’s basketball, which is nice for me. He does women’s basketball, women’s volleyball and beach volleyball. Him and the men’s basketball strength coach and all the other sports are just divided out. He really enjoys it.
WH: How did you two meet?
KM: At App.
WH: Good story?
KM: Yeah, he’s from Minnesota originally. But he had a scholarship for grad school, a portion of his scholarship, for exercise science down at App State. I was there for four years and didn’t know him and then this guy comes into the weight room and I’d never seen him before. That’s how we met. My basketball strength coach introduced us. She was in charge of some of the interns, which at the time he was an intern.
WH: He was impressed with your lifting, right?
KM: Definitely (laughs). He was actually lifting. I was running up top. Our weight room is kind of multi-level. You can kind of see the lifting racks below from the top. I turned to my strength coach who was in her office and I was like, ‘Who is this guy?’ This is my campus. I’ve been here. That’s how we first officially met. We started playing staff pickup basketball together. All the staff and the men’s staff and some of the football interns would play. That’s how we met. He’s a year older than me, so we only spent a year together in Boone. Then we did long distance. His first job was the University of Minnesota. So he worked at the U of M as a strength coach.
WH: Do you still play ball.
KM: Yes, most definitely.
WH: Where do you play?
KM: I played in a league before our high school season in Atlanta. Atlanta Social Club. They do kickball, too. It was all women’s teams. I want to find a coed one because I would love to play. The others I play with my husband at a park. We kind of have this group of guys. It’s a full-court game at a park in Decatur. It’s really fun. This past summer we played every Saturday morning. Then in the winter, a couple of guys have a connection to a church gym in Decatur, so we play there. I grew up playing with my dad and my brothers, so it doesn’t bother me at all. I think it’s fun because the guys always play hard.
WH: You still hold your own?
KM: Yeah, pretty much.
WH: You still show the girls what to do?
KM: In practice, I definitely play. I’m sure some of the girls get tired of it. We do plenty of 3-point closeout drills and things like that. I enjoy that for sure.
WH: You’re from Texas originally?
KM: Yes, I am.
WH: Does this area feel like home now?
KM: Yeah, I think because I went to high school here it feels like home. All my extended family is in Texas still. It is really nice to be back here. There are just so many connections in Georgia. In Texas, all I have is really family. There’s no high school or connection there.
WH: Your family is still here?
KM: My parents are in Woodstock. I have an older sister and a younger brother. My older sister lives in Atlanta with her husband and my nephew. My younger brother just graduated from UGA. So we’re all sort of nearby. I haven’t been close to family since high school. Boone was only five and half hours away, but with basketball I just didn’t come home often. And then we took off to Connecticut afterwards. It’s nice when it’s someone’s birthday that I can actually attend, little stuff like that we missed out on for awhile.
WH: Looking back to high school, who was the toughest player you played against?
KM: I remember a lot of them. Sydney Wallace we played in the state tournament and she went to Georgia Tech. She was actually a friend of mine and she scored 40 on us in the state tournament I’m pretty sure. Lauren Coleman (of Parkview) was very good. I didn’t quite make the Maya Moore era. I watched it when I was in eighth grade. We always got up for the Brookwood-Parkview game. Lauren was a good competitor.
WH: So were you a fan of Texas teams growing up?
KM: Yeah, I always liked the Lady Longhorns. I used to watch Texas basketball, UT. My UT. That’s something I learned when I moved to Georgia, when you say UT in Georgia you’re talking about Tennessee. When you say UT in Texas, you’re talking about Texas. I remember that change when we got here. When I was a girl, I still watched UConn and Tennessee. I loved watching those games.
WH: Do you have a favorite player in basketball currently you enjoy watching?
KM: It’s hard not to be a fan of Sabrina Ionescu of Oregon. She’s phenomenal. I told my husband the other day that I wish, if I could pick a player I wanted to be like. If I was still in high school and could model my game after someone, it would definitely be here. She’s phenomenal.
WH: Is it weird being on this side of the Brookwood-Parkview rivalry? What was that game like?
KM: The first time they were here, so it was a little better having them here. I remember when they walked in, it’s just different. I know some of the people on staff and we’re still good friends, so it was fun. It was really weird when they came here. Even my parents, they didn’t come to that first Brookwood-Parkview game, but they said it’s weird seeing you in orange. The first game was awesome. Obviously, we won so that was better. Someone was at the game, a Brookwood fan who knew me when I played, he said the game reminded him of the old Brookwood-Parkview rivalries. The game was packed that night. We had so many students there and our game went to overtime, so that helps. It was awesome to see that many people get excited about women’s basketball. Even though I’m at Parkview now, I still have great memories at Brookwood. But when you work with Parkview girls, the Parkview girls are my girls. You work with them every day. Yeah, the other girls are wearing the Brookwood jersey, but I just don’t know them so well. It’s easy to pull for the ones you work with day in and day out.
WH: When you’re not coaching basketball or playing basketball, what do you do for fun?
KM: Oh gosh, watch basketball (laughs). We hang out with my family a lot. I have a really close family and we love doing that. We go to a lot of other sports events since J.D. is involved in a lot of different sports at Georgia State. I’ve gone to a lot of volleyball games and their basketball games. Except when they play App, I have to root for App. We definitely enjoy going out with friends and hanging out. I think the reason why we get along so well is we understand college athletics and we understand the people it’s brought into our lives and how much it means to us. That’s a huge bond for us. It is sports when you come down it, but it’s really about the people we’ve met. That’s what makes it fun.
WH: Given his career, you may have to travel. Would you like to stay in this area?
KM: I would love to stay as long as we can. I know there’s the possibility that something comes along that would be hard to deny. But I think being near family has shown us the positives of that. There’s the positive of a different paycheck or a fun location, too. But it’s just nice to be an hour from my parents and 10 minutes from my sister. It’s pretty cool. But we’re definitely up for it. I support him. We do make those decisions together. He’s very supportive of me and what I want to do. If he thinks that a move could be beneficial to both of us and there could be opportunities for both of us, we would be willing to do it.
WH: Did you always know you wanted to coach and do you want to be a head coach?
KM: Yeah, I would like to be a head coach. I knew when I was a graduate assistant. I really liked being in that middle ground. I was a player with some of the players that were still there, but also I was in the offices working and in pre-practice meetings and in a lot of things. I heard a lot more than I did as a player. I loved kind of being the middle man and having that relationship with the girls. I knew I wanted to coach then. But I really like the high school level.
WH: Did you want to be a counselor all along? What attracted you to that?
KM: I wouldn’t say all along. I was studying psychology at App. At first, I think went in wanting to be a teacher. With being a basketball player, one of my academic advisors was saying it’s going to be really hard because you have to get your student teaching hours during that last year of senior year. And we traveled a ton. I wasn’t available consistently every week to go to a high school and do that. There were some teachers before me that did it, but they stayed a semester later or did it in summers. I kind of was trying to rethink some things, but I majored in psychology and after that I knew I wanted to get my master’s. I really wanted to be in a high school system, but I didn’t know if teaching was what I wanted. I had a really awesome academic advisor at App and she was just for women’s basketball. We bonded with her. She would have the team over for dinners. It was really cool. We just started talking about what I would want long term and the school counseling route has been really good. It’s a unique role at the school and I can build relationships with students and learn a little more about them. We talk about some intense things. In 10 years, I could see myself doing other things. I would never say that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life, but I really do enjoy it right now.