Simpson is doing a nice job at BLHS
Boy, what a difference a year makes.
Last year around this time, the Basehor-Linwood girls were a solid but unspectacular team. The group played low-scoring, slug-it-out games.
The Bobcats made significant progress from the year before, achieving their first winning season (12-10) and substate win in the same season since 1996-97, but something always seemed to be missing.
Following last season, coach Tami Holthaus stepped down and assistant coach Noah Simpson was hired to coach the team.
Basehor-Linwood returned all five starters and most of the bench from a rapidly improving squad. If there was ever a year that Basehor-Linwood could make a run, it seemed that 2007-08 would be it.
The Simpson hire was a grand slam for the program.
Simpson changed things immediately. His vision for the team was clear and the playing style he instituted deviated drastically from the previous model. Before the season began, Simpson promised to expand the rotation and rely on 9-10 players and to increase the tempo.
He said the team would employ a pressure defense and be in an "attack mode" on offense. Simpson said the style of playing would be much different than last year's, and he said the girls were adapting well to it in practice. One could not have been blamed for at least a hint of skepticism, seeing as though Simpson's philosophy was about 180 degrees different than his predecessors.
However, he couldn't have been more right. The team adapted to the system immediately, dominating the opposition right from the outset of the season.
Simpson's guards now had the freedom to push the ball up the court quickly and to shoot whenever they had daylight. Cassie Lombardino, a Washburn signee, is still the team's star but by no means its only offensive weapon anymore.
Simpson's style also translated off the basketball court. He made BLHS girls basketball an event before the season started by staging a "Midnight Madness" practice that was open to the public. The coaching staff slept on school grounds that night in order to wake up for a teacher in-service day, and got almost no rest in doing so, but the tone of fun and dedication had been set.
Simpson also encouraged his players to have fun and not to worry about mistakes. It is one thing to open up the offense and push the tempo, but it is quite another to encourage a guard who has missed her first five shots to keep jacking them up. Simpson did so and his players loved it.
The coach also displayed unwavering loyalty. During last week's final regular season game against Bonner Springs, Simpson started all six seniors. He risked a technical foul, a penalty he said later he would have gladly accepted, but wanted to make sure those players were honored on "Senior Night." The team found out later that night that they had won the first Kaw Valley League title in school history. A well deserved frenzy of a celebration ensued.
In interviews with players after last season, they conveyed an understanding that they had the ability to be special this year. Brooke Sanders said her only goal was to win the league.
"There is no doubt in my mind that we can and should win our league," Sanders said at the time. "We also want to go to state and compete."
After having lost all three contests the teams played against Tonganoxie last year, the goal was more far fetched than it now seems.
Simpson was the right man at the right time for the job. This year's team is fun to watch. They will take a 20-1 record into the second round of substate and are the predominant favorite to reach the state tournament. The 2007-08 Bobcats harass the opposition into turnovers on defense by flying around the court and then run past them on offense. They win and they usually win by large margins.
Boy, what a difference a year makes.