Ernie Haag has been coaching basketball for almost 30 years. There are many ways to illustrate three decades of coaching experience, but Haag said it best when discussing the future of Stover girls’ basketball.
“Three of our eighth graders, I coached their mothers,” he said.
Despite 25 years at Stover, Haag won his first Kaysinger Conference Tournament this season with a 36-34 victory over La Monte. The Lady Bulldogs won that game with three players on the bench. Stover finished with a 19-7 record after a district semifinals exit, and Haag was named conference coach of the year earlier this week.
Haag said having a close-knit group provided a variety of challenges, but made the year that much more special.
Stover played with eight players on their roster for the better half of the year. Mallory Uputegrove, Jensen Bauer and Ashley Schroder each averaged more than 30 minutes per game. All three were also named to the Kaysinger All-Conference team, with Schroder earning honorable mention.
Bauer also earned academic All-State honors this season after starting 90 percent of Stover’s games, had a score of at least 27 on the ACT and a GPA of at least 3.25.
The three usual suspects on the Stover bench were Kayla Nolting, Lindey Orhrke and Matty Hinck, who recovered from a torn meniscus and debuted in the second semester. On a roster as sparse as Stover’s, these players were not benchwarmers.
“I call them the experts,” Haag said. “They’re the experts on what the other team’s doing. It gave them an importance and a value. They bought into the important part of the team they are.”
Concern for fatigue went beyond counting minutes for Stover. Haag said the team switched to zone defense over man-to-man early in the season to curb exhaustion.
“Running and chasing people non-stop is quite a challenge,” Haag said. “And with the minutes our kids had to lug anyways, it was a challenge.”
Playing defense was one thing. Practicing it was another. With only eight bodies to work with, Haag and his staff got creative to effectively practice defensive schemes.
“Instead of full court press break, we would have 3 on 5,” Haag said. “My assistant (Layne Ebers) and I, we practiced with the boys in half-court. We had to be more inventive in how to work on things. We played so much four on four it was ridiculous.”
Another quirk to Stover’s season was that their best player, Uptegrove, was playing her second-favorite sport. She earned all-conference and region honors following a season in which the Lady Bulldogs won a district title in volleyball. And while she collected more than 1,000 points, 980 rebounds and 300 blocks in her career, Uptegrove plans to play volleyball at college.
Haag said he was proud of Stover’s best season in more than a decade, but noted Uptegrove’s collegiate endeavors, Bauer’s academic All-State honors and seeing all eight Lady Bulldogs grow closer together were achievements that spoke to the bigger picture.
“Those kids, they got thrown in some interesting situations,” Haag said. “It makes it a special year. You can look back on the win total, but the thing we always talk about is, ‘What are these kids going to be doing in 10 years?’ In the long run, that’s the most important part. Only about 1 percent of high school basketball players move on, 100 percent of them can do great things as people.”
Alex Agueros can be reached at 660-826-1000, ext. 1483 or on Twitter @abagueros2