High school coaching can be a thankless job at times, with long hours and low pay. However, a good coach can make a world of difference during the season. With the school year behind us, let’s take a look at the candidates for the Tribune’s 2010-11 Coach of the Year. To vote, click here. Our selection will be announced on Wednesday, June 22:
Richard Hamilton, Red Mountain softball and boys golf
The Mountain Lions repeated as 5A Division I champions this year in softball, but it wasn’t easy. Red Mountain lost pitching ace Mel Willadsen to graduation and had to replace several key hitters in the lineup. The team played well in the regular season and grabbed the No. 1 overall seed in the postseason, but had to fight through the loser’s bracket after dropping a game to Mountain View in the quarterfinals. Red Mountain never gave in, defeating the Toros twice in the semifinals and then rallying to beat Basha for the state championship. Hamilton was working with plenty of new pieces, but he got them to mesh and came away with another championship. He also did an impressive job with the boys golf team at Red Mountain, which shot 6-under par on the second day of the state tournament to capture the Division I title by four strokes. The Mountain Lions had only one senior on the roster, and Hamilton got the most out of his young-but-talented group.
Katie Higgins, Mountain View boys volleyball
This is almost more of a multi-year award, as Higgins completely turned around the culture of the program and made Mountain View into a legitimate contender. The team entered this season as the preseason favorite, but had to battle through regular-season slumps when everything wasn’t clicking. Despite a knee injury to star middle blocker Ryan Olsen, the Toros ran through a tough postseason bracket for the program’s first state championship. Mountain View may have entered the playoffs as a No. 7 seed, but Higgins said her players were always confident in their ability, and the Toros peaked at the right time to claim the hardware.
Jeremy Hathcock, Desert Ridge football
Early on, the Jaguars looked similar to its teams from past years — a group that could beat inferior opponents, but had trouble with the cream of the crop. Then an injury to quarterback Parker Rasmussen changed everything. After his signal caller went down late in the year, Hathcock put Jordan Becerra behind center and scrapped the team’s pass-heavy scheme. Instead, he relied on a run-oriented spread option focused on Becerra and running back Joey Counts. Although the team had to adjust on the fly, the Jaguars never missed a beat and made a surprising run to the 5A Division I state championship game, averaging 395 rushing yards and 43 points per game in the postseason to get there. Desert Ridge fell short against Hamilton, but had the ball with a chance to tie in the closing minutes.
Gary Ernst, Mountain View boys basketball
Ernst is no stranger to success, as he has led the Toros to four state championships in the past seven years. However, with the ones in the past, he could rely on superstars like Harper Kamp, Kendall Wallace and Brendon Lavender to get the job done. This year, the star power was considerably less, but the result was the same. With a group of players that bought into defense, ball movement and patience, Mountain View made its journey to the title look easy. The Toros defeated Mesquite, Corona del Sol, Buena and Brophy by an average of 25 points per game, and won each contest by at least 21 points. For a team that didn’t have a single player with a Division I scholarship offer, it was quite the impressive performance, led by Ernst’s magnificent game-planning and attention to detail.
Shane Hilstrom, Perry baseball
In a region with two-time defending state champion Desert Ridge and eventual 2011 state champ Mountain Pointe, there weren’t very many easy days for Perry. In addition to those powers, the Pumas stacked their schedule to see many of the state’s best teams. It put a dent in the team’s record heading into the postseason, but it also steeled them. Perry was a No. 12 seed and started its journey by knocking off No. 5 Yuma. Next was No. 4 Pinnacle, followed by wins over No. 1 Boulder Creek and No. 8 Millennium. The Pumas’ Cinderella run in the 5A Division II playoffs ended with a loss to Chaparral in the title game. Still, the job Hilstrom did to keep his team focused and ready to make a run shouldn’t go unnoticed. It was the first title game appearance in the school’s history.
Jeff Bader, Hamilton boys volleyball; Kim Roberts, Mountain View boys tennis; Mike Peterson, Red Mountain boys swimming; Jason Thompson, Hamilton girls soccer; James Felton, Seton Catholic girls volleyball; Laura Winslow, Chaparral girls swimming; Melissa Brittain, Tempe Prep girls track; Joe Germaine, Queen Creek football; Scot Bemis, Notre Dame football and girls soccer; Bill Kalkman, Brophy boys track.