Zipser named head coach of East Lyme girls' basketball team
P.J. Zipser didn't make the varsity boys' basketball team until his senior year at Arlington High School in Lagrangeville, N.Y.
"I worked hard and I played defense very well. I couldn't score for anything and I kind of knew that," Zipser said. "I think that's kind of carried on to the coaching side. I love the kids who work hard, who are willing to put the time in and the effort."
Zipser, however, always loved the game. He consistently breathed in the knowledge, a comprehension which came shining through as Zipser took over as interim head coach of the East Lyme High School girls' basketball team on Jan. 24 this year following the resignation of coach Sal Fiorillo.
"He really impressed a lot of people," East Lyme athletic director Steve Hargis said. "His basketball IQ struck a lot of people. He was put under the gun and he stepped up."
Zipser was named East Lyme's head coach on a permanent basis Wednesday, according to Hargis, who said the players "respect him immensely."
Zipser, 26, enters his fourth year as a math teacher at the high school and his fourth year with the basketball program. He still had to go through the formal interview process, however, to be named head coach. Hargis said there were "seven or eight" applicants.
"To be honest, I'm more relieved than anything," Zipser said. "I was getting a little nervous, I'm not going to lie. I'm happy to be back. I'm looking forward to it."
Zipser described his first game after taking over for Fiorillo, a 49-34 win over Fitch on Jan. 24, in which senior Sophie Dubreuil eclipsed the 1,000-point mark. East Lyme led 17-3 in the first quarter.
"They cut the lead to about four. I was a mess. Sweating bullets for sure," Zipser said. "It was a great opportunity being able to step in, but definitely tough, definitely challenging. The girls were awesome; most of them had more varsity experience than I had coaching experience. I kind of had to rely on them."
Zipser said he watched and learned while he was a graduate assistant in the athletic department at Quinnipiac University. He then student taught at Cheshire High School, where he helped coach Dan Lee with the Cheshire boys' basketball team.
He credits Lee — "he was just awesome, one of the best coaches I've ever been around, well-regarded around the state," Zipser said — as well as Fiorillo for his coaching inspiration.
"The three years that I spent with Sal were awesome as well," he said. "He taught me a lot of ways to simplify X's and O's. ... I loved basketball, growing up playing it constantly. I played high school. I've kind of just always been a high IQ with basketball and whatnot."
The Vikings finished 12-12 last season with a berth in the Eastern Connecticut Conference Division I tournament semifinals — falling to eventual champion Norwich Free Academy in overtime — and the Class L state quarterfinals, a game they had yet to play when the remaining tournament games were canceled due to the COVID-19 crisis.