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Leaving a mark of greatness

Former Hillsboro coach Becky Carlson is two wins away from 400

Staff writer

Before the 1996 state championship game in Hutchinson, Becky Carlson understood that her team had nothing left to prove; yet they were attempting a feat that would be remembered as a true measure of greatness.

Many high school coaches and players compete without ever getting a taste of a state championship. Carlson said any coach’s goal is winning a state title.

One is hard enough; winning two is exponentially more difficult.

The Trojans had conquered the 3A basketball world the year before, winning the championship as an underdog after two consecutive first-round losses in 1993 and 1994.

“We were all determined to get past the first round,” former point guard Tesha Werth said.

The 1996 season had not been easy for Hillsboro. The Trojans played the season with a target on their back; they had never been expected to win. On top of increased pressure, the team faced injuries and a bout of mononucleosis.

Battered and tired the Trojans had one more game to play.

“Tomorrow, I don’t want you to regret anything,” Carlson told her team. “A lot of life is learning what you start, you finish with no regrets.”

“She just made us believe it was possible,” Werth said. “She was great at inspiring us.”

With renewed confidence, Hillsboro took the floor and battled the entire game. Werth said the Trojans trailed the entire contest until they tied the game with seconds remaining on the clock.

Fortune smiled on the Trojans and Werth had the ball in her hands for the last possession of the game. Werth passed to a Hillsboro guard who was trapped by two defenders. Somehow the guard found Nicole Friessen who nailed a turnaround jumper at the buzzer to win the second of back-to-back girls basketball state titles for the Trojans.

“It all happened how you would have dreamed,” Werth said nearly 15 years later, the memory burned into her brain.

“They were mentally tough,” Carlson said of the 1996 team.

The win was the most difficult but also one of the most satisfying in Carlson’s 25-year career of coaching basketball. She became the Hillsboro head coach in 1985 and is now coaching at Iola, two wins shy of reaching 400 for her career.

There is not much Carlson has not accomplished in her coaching career. If championships are the measure of coaching success, having three on a resume is good thing.

Aside from the back-to-back titles with Hillsboro, Carlson also won in her first year at Iola High School in 2006 after moving back to her native Allen County.

Although coach and team inevitably went through a growing period that year, the Iola players, led by Marissa Scott who currently plays for the University of Missouri, bought into an attacking style.

“You have to learn to control the tempo of the game,” Carlson said. “It has to be at the pace you think you can win at.”

Carlson said the players on her 2006 squad accepted the coach’s leadership because they were hungry for a state championship.

“My job that year was to teach them that they were good enough to win,” Carlson said. “At that point, there were talented athletes that were doubting each other.”

Instilling confidence has always been an important aspect of Carlson’s coaching. Werth said that all of her Hillsboro teams gained confidence on the court because of Carlson.

“She definitely made us the team that we were,” Werth said. “She demanded that we perform, and that was the only reason we did. No matter who you’re playing expect to win.”

By no means was Carlson always a player’s coach.

“She was tough,” Werth said. “When you were in practice, you were there to practice. You left practice dripping or something was wrong. You know, that’s what we loved about her. We wanted to work hard.”

Werth is an assistant coach for the Tabor College volleyball team and tries to emulate her former coach when trying to express the authority over the team.

“You have to do that as a coach,” Werth said. “You have to enforce authority.”

However, Werth said it was the other side of Carlson’s coaching approach that set her apart from her peers.

“We all had a personal relationship with her,” Werth said. “She would have the team over to her house, do meals, get togethers. If she thought something was upsetting or wrong, she would pull you aside. I definitely played for some coaches who could have cared less.”

Carlson taught physical education at Hillsboro Elementary School and continues teaching at Jefferson Elementary School in Iola. Teaching future players when they were young improved their comfort with their coach in high school.

She also tries to keep up with her former players, although she says it is easier now because of cell phones. She recently attended former Hillsboro player Shannon Kroeker’s wedding in California.

Carlson’s accomplishments as a coach were enough to earn her enshrinement in the National High School Athletics Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame. She was inducted in 2008 and is one of nine Kansas coaches in the 14-year history of the hall.

“I think it’s just the kids working hard and buying in to what you do,” Carlson said. “If you have teams with enough ability, they’ll win.”

Although she has achieved nearly everything a coach could want, she does not intend to hang up her clipboard any time soon.

With twice-a-day practices bearing down on her and a team lacking in height, she continues to love the game because it pushes people who would seldom interact to cooperate in the pursuit of a common goal.

“My goal is to practice hard and play hard,” Carlson said. “You want them to follow the rules — it’s not all about you —that you represent the team. You push them to where you think they can go.

“I’ve never thought, ‘God, I wish I could quit.’ I just love basketball.”

Last modified Nov. 24, 2010

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