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Willmar notebook: Introduction to coaching (girls)

Dustin Carlson has made the transition from coaching boys basketball to girls basketball and from assistant to head coach in one career swoop.

Notebook asked how difficult is that?

“I think there are a few drastic differences when comparing the assistant boys to the head girls coaching jobs,” he responded in an email this week. “The first is the organization of practices. Obviously, both teams need to have effective plans but as the head coach you need to make sure things are spot on.

“All the emailing to communicate with parents, assistant coaches, athletic director and others can, at times, overwhelming. The fear of forgetting to take care of something keeps me thinking all the time. As an assistant, it is coach the kids up during practice and games and that’s it.

“I don’t ever stop thinking about the team and program now. I don’t feel pressure from anyone other than myself. The administration, A.D., parents and other coaches have been so positive and supportive.

“I hold myself to a high standard, which I try to bring to the girls as well. Deep down, athletes like to be held to a high standard. Pushing yourself and reaching new goals is so enjoyable as an athlete or coach. Wanting to be the best I can be so the girls in turn can be the best they can be motivates me every day.”

Comparatively, he concludes that “Girls listen a lot more attentively than boys. I don’t think girls watch the game on TV a lot as boys do, so they perhaps don’t have some of the basketball IQ that boys have. I have to be aware of my coaching style coming from all-boys sports. I still get fired up but I know screaming at the girls won’t help like it does with boys.

“They need to know what they are doing wrong and how to fix it in a stern tone. I think girls take a little longer to catch on to things but after they understand the concept they can consistently perform it better. Girls tend to have better fundamentals because they can’t rely on pure athleticism as much as boys.”

Carlson’s junior varsity coach is his wife, Emily (Swierenga), an all-state player on the Brad Atchison team that finished AAA state runner-up in 2004.

“She does a wonderful job mentoring the girls and relating to them more than just as a basketball coach. Our four-year-old son, Jackson, loves to be around the gym and both our mothers are great babysitters.”

Dustin concluded that the student-athletes in the program keep him and his assistants (Emily, Bryan Borgos and Wade Adamson) “motivated every day. Some days aren’t perfect with regards to execution, but it’s not because they aren’t trying. This season is going by so fast because the girls are fantastic to work with.”

Atchison, too, adjusts

Brad Atchison stepped down as head girls coach last spring after 35 seasons split between Clara City and Willmar during a Hall-of-Fame career.

The middle school physical education teacher is still courtside, however, as an analyst on basketball coverage presented by Todd Bergeth and KWLM Radio.

“I’m really enjoying my ‘new gig’ as Todd’s color man,” he told Notebook. “Todd is so good at what he does and is easy to work with. There is no stress at all on radio [compared to coaching]. I feel I’ve learned and improved these first 20 games. Todd has encouraged me to simply be myself.

“It thoroughly keeps me connected to the programs and the kids. I think it’s helped me through this transition year. I appreciate the opportunity Todd and the station provided.”

How about his successor? “I think Dusty has done a great job. It’s been a very smooth transition for the kids and coach. We work side-by-side at the middle school so we talk basketball every day; I know how hard he and his staff work.  Dusty has the same assignment I had for 30 plus years, coaching football in the fall [Carlson as the defensive coordinator], then shifting gears and coaching the girls in the winter. It’s a great combination and I think Dusty has figured that out as well. I like what I’ve seen so far the Cardinals. They’re working hard and having fun.”

Smith at fundraiser

Cleveland Indians’ minor league right-fielder Jordan Smith will be signing baseball cards and greeting fans at the Willmar Baseball/Softball fundraiser from 8:30-11:30 a.m. Saturday at the Willmar Community Center on Highway 71/23 North, across from Robbins Island.

Tickets for the Dad’s Belgian Waffles breakfast are $8 and $5 (ages 6-12) in advance at Cullen’s, Floor to Ceiling and Walt’s or $9 and $6 at the door. Door prizes, limited edition Jordan Smith t-shirts and a radio interview at 11 a.m. are also part of the festivities.

The 2009 Willmar graduate hit .316 in 116 games last summer for the Lake County Captains in the Class A Midwest League. He hit .300 in his first year over 65 games at Mahoning Valley in the New York/Penn rookie league.

The Indians plucked Smith out of St. Cloud State and the Cape Cod League in the ninth-round of the 2011 June draft. Best guess is that he’ll be assigned to play for the Carolina Mudcats at Zebulon, N.C., in the advanced A Carolina League. The next step in his professional career would likely be the AA Akron Aeros.

On the fly

n Nathan Moudry will bring his Lakeville South Cougars wrestlers to the prairie on Friday to compete at the New London-Spicer Invite (3:30 p.m. start). As a Cardinal senior, Moudry finished fifth in the 1994 state tournament. Coincidentally, Paul Donner, a former assistant coach in the Willmar program, is co-head coach at Lakeville North.

n Cardinal individuals ranked AAA top 10 in Guillotine as of Jan. 11: 126-pounds, Nate Mittag, sixth; 132, Austin Miley, eighth; 152, Colten Carlson, eighth; 285, Cass Herzog, ninth. Team-wise, Willmar is receiving votes outside the top 12. Rated top 12 from the Area are New London-Spicer 8th, AA; ACGC 2nd, KMS 5th, A.

n The boys hockey team plays hosts to Fergus Falls tonight at the Cardinal Arena. The Cards and Otters earlier tied 5-5 at Fergus. Coming off consecutive 3-1 losses, Willmar (7-7-1) plays three games in three days. The Cards travel to the Iron Range on Friday to play the Eveleth-Gilbert Golden Bears (5-8-3) at the famed Hippodrome and then meets Virginia/Mt. Iron-Buhl (5-10-1) on Saturday at Miners Memorial.

n Also at home tonight are the gymnasts versus Fergus Falls (7:15 p.m.) and the swimmer vs. Alexandria (6 p.m.).

Rand Middleton
Tribune photographer/videographer. Began working in radio and at weekly newspaper in Munising, Michigan, in 1972. Started parttime at West Central Daily Tribune Sept. 1974. Fulltime news/sports beginning Feb. 1979. Married to Tribune news clerk Donna (Miller) Middleton, formerly of Kerkhoven. 2 grown children. 
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