Luke Rhoades took over for Jim Swaney as the Tyrone girls basketball coach following a controversial decision last summer by the district not to hire Swaney as the new boys basketball coach. When Swaney stepped down, it left a void at the top of the program for the first time in nearly two decades, and in stepped Rhoades, who not only had to reorganize the program immediately and on the fly, but also deal with the loss of five seniors who lettered for the better part of the three seasons. While the process was frustrating at times for Rhoades, who has coached football, basketball and track at Tyrone for five years, his team still managed to be competitive with the top clubs on the schedule while improving markedly from November to February. The Daily Herald had an opportunity to talk to Rhoades, and ask him about his experience coaching girls, improving his team for next season, and the challenges of following Swaney at Tyrone.
Daily Herald: How would you rate the season based on your preseason expectations?
Rhoades: Rating the season proves to be an interesting challenge. Although record would indicate an unsuccessful season, I would say it was very successful. We made great strides in a lot of different areas while continuing to work toward our team goals. Unfortunately, we did not achieve a lot of our team goals but we continued to work hard toward them.
DH: What are some games that stand out as big games in the course of the season, win or lose?
Rhoades: Both Bellefonte games proved to be big games for us. We played them extremely hard the first game exerting a lot of effort and a lot of emotion. I really thought after the first Bellefonte game we gave everything we had. Lewistown at home and away were also big games. After the first quarter at home we were winning and at the half down there we were tied. And finally B.G., at B.G. proved to be a stand out game. We were winning by five at half and playing an all around solid game. Unfortunately we ran out of gas in all of these games but it provided us something to build on for the future.
DH: Could you comment on the performance of Liz Tepsic?
Rhoades: I believe Liz had an outstanding senior season. Liz led us in scoring and also played really good defense. In fact she broke the single game record of blocked shots. She also set a new record for blocked shots in a season and in her career. Liz did a great job of leading by example. She proved to be a very positive silent leader. Unfortunately for Liz she was not 100% all season. She seemed to be constantly fighting off the flu, yet she made no excuses for her play in those games. I think Liz is going to have a successful senior track season and college career.
DH: What were the biggest challenges you saw in your first year as a girls coach and with this team?
Rhoades: I really feel that getting such a late start provided a tough hurdle to get over. We really did not have time to conduct off-season clinics and weight training. We were basically stuck putting in a new offense, defense, conditioning and developing fundamentals, all at the start of the season. That really put us behind a lot of the other teams especially with the lack of experience we had. Although we had four returning letter winners, only one saw significant time in the previous year. One of the first things I noticed was how far behind we were on the basic skills, dribbling, passing, and playing defense. That ended up as one of our main focuses at practice, and I believe we really saw vast improvements especially from the younger girls.
I really enjoy coaching the girls; they are constantly taking coaching advice and implementing it in their play and I think as the year progressed they were able to learn our offensive and defensive sets and implement them on the court.
DH: What are the areas the team needs to improve most in the off-season?
Rhoades: We as a staff created five off-season goals, areas that we feel we need to make significant strides in order to be a competitive team next year. Our first one is team attitude: we really feel these girls need to reach a point where they can depend on each other on and off the court. The second deals with our team strength. We feel it is necessary to make a full effort of our weight training. There are a number of key points in games that our lack of strength impacted the situation. The third is team speed. We are working hard at getting quicker. During this season we never seemed to have five people on the floor that could match up guarding the other team. The forth is basic fundamentals. We really need to improve our basic skills, dribbling with the weak hand, passing, catching passes, and starting in triple threat. The final area we are focusing on deals with shooting. Our shooting percentages were extremely low as a team. Shooting is something that needs worked on all year not just in the season.
DH: What strengths do you see returning?
Rhoades: We have a solid core of dedicated girls returning, granted most are young and inexperienced but to this point of the off-season they have dedicated themselves to getting better. We have very good attendance in the weight room. Also, I feel the girls who are working out really are developing a team chemistry that will carry over to the basketball court. We are going to try to play a lot of basketball this off-season so when the season starts, experience won’t be an issue. I am really excited to see the improvements Kassie Faretta and Lindsay Christine make over this off-season. In addition, I believe we are going to see Rachel Emigh really establish herself as a dominate point guard in this area next year as she builds on a very successful freshman season.
DH: How would you compare your year with the girls with coaching boys? What are some similarities and differences?
Rhoades: As the head coach I was able to institute my theories and philosophies and see them carried out. But coaching basketball is coaching basketball. Some of the game strategies might be a little different but all in all there are a lot of similarities.
DH: How do you view your team’s style of play for next season?
Rhoades: We are going to play hard. We are going to work together as a team. We are going to bring a lot of excitement back to girls basketball here in Tyrone. We are going to look to defend hard and get a lot of transition baskets. We will probably try to slow down our half court game a little but as far as slowing down the entire game I wouldn’t say we are going to go that far.
DH: Was it a difficult transition to come on after a coach like Swaney, who had been at the school for so long?
Rhoades: Following him was difficult, but I have a strong sense of where I want my program to go and how it is going to get there so I would say things adapted pretty quickly.