By: Seth McKinzie
On Friday, the Lions and Lady Lions traveled down to Farmington and came away with a split. The Lions defeated the #3 ranked Cardinals and the Lady Lions gave the Farmington girls all they could handle until the final buzzer. The win for the Gravette boys was the first time Farmington had lost at home all season and also handed the Cardinals their first conference loss of the year.
LL had a conversation with the head coaches from Gravette, Matt Busch and Will Pittman, about riding momentum into the last two regular season games and how the steam of the final week can carry over into the district tournament.
Conversation with Coach Busch
LL: All coaches want their teams to be playing their best ball around postseason tournament time. Friday night, you all went down to Farmington and beat the Cardinals. After an up and down January how were your guys able to go down and deliver Farmington their first home loss and conference loss of the season?
LL: Talk a little about how your team has had to overcome quite a bit of adversity this season in terms of personnel.
Coach Pittman: We have definitely had some adversity this year. Before the season began we lost two players to transfer. Currently, due to injuries, we are missing three players who would normally see a significant amount of playing time. This being said, I have been so pleased by the way our team just continues to work to make everyone around them better. These ladies make absolutely no excuses. We have had to throw some young players into the fire early and they have responded very well. We have had some juniors, who have stepped up and played extended minutes.I think the key to overcoming some adversity for this group, is the fact that they are very mentally and physically tough. They also are very unselfish and work to to ensure the entire team is prepared for each and every game.
LL: The conference is tough. How have the girls responded to playing really solid competition virtually night in and night out?
Coach Pittman: The fact that we have four of the top 10 teams in the state in our conference makes for exciting games every night out. I feel we have competed very well to this point. We have really done a good job this season of beating everyone that we are supposed to beat on paper. That is attributed to our preparation and our girls having a good mind set of respecting and preparing for every opponent.
LL: Who are some players that have surprised you in how they’ve stepped up and been big contributors? I’ll word it better than “surprised” when I write it.
Coach Pittman: We have had to play a lot of young players earlier than we would have liked this year, but I have been very pleased with minutes we have gotten out of this group. Kaylan Chilton (sophomore) brings toughness and intensity each time she comes in the game. Abigail Beranek, antoher sophomore, has come along very nicely and continues to improve in the post. Kasandra Tajchman has been outstanding defensively in the post, especially over the last two weeks. Austynn Russell and Brook Deihl have given us some great minutes at different times throughout the season.
Shylee Morrison has not been a surprise, but the rate at which she is maturing as a point guard is really fun to watch. I totally forget she is just a 10th grader a lot of the time.
LL: You’ve got three huge games left on the schedule. What do you need to see from your team these last three games headed into the district tournament?
Coach Pittman: We really just need to come out hitting on all cylinders. We need to show intensity and speed on both ends of the court and just ensure that we are playing our best ball heading into post season.
LL: Yesterday, someone told me they think you should be named the coach of the year for what you’ve been able to get out of this team so far. What is your philosophy for coaching basketball? How has your formula proven to be as successful as it has?
Coach Pittman: One of the first things is I believe if you really want to build a sustainable program, you have to stay someplace for a while. I have wanted to get a program to a point where we are competitive EVERY year. I do not want to only win when we have great athletes, but still compete and win in so called “down” years. Then you are able to achieve some special things on the years when you are also blessed with outstanding talent.
Secondly, you have to have an identity. One of those, even if it sounds cliche’, is we are going to be tough and we are going to play hard. The second part of that identity, is we are going to try to play fairly fast and cause some chaos on defense.
I could go on in to a lot of nuances of what I believe, but the last and most important is that the kids you are coaching must see that you have a passion for coaching and that you care about them as people. These young ladies are like my second set of children. I hate when they are hurting and I love when they have successes.
A lot of people will say, “I hate to lose these three seniors, etc.” I definitely miss having them as a part of the team, but I am always very excited to see each of them venture out on their own each year.
LL: Talk a little about Coach Kayla Shortt and what she has brought to your program the last few years.
Coach Pittman: Coach Shortt has done an outstanding job each year she has been here. She is someone I trust to be on the same page with me. She teaches the 7th grade and Junior High girls the right way to prepare them to play the Senior High game. She is a tremendous asset to our program. She is great as an assistant as well. She is never afraid to tell me what she is seeing or give thoughts and suggestions. I greatly value having such input during the games.
I also want to be sure and mention that our JV players are outstanding workers and don’t always get a lot of praise publicly. Day in and day out they have to simulate the opposing team and our girls have done a great job. They watch film and prepare themselves to “impersonate” players we are about to play. I have been so pleased with them and they are a huge reason why we have been able to prepare so well throughout the season.