Lady Cougars' Lockhart county coach of yearNov 19, 2017 By Scott Akanewich, Sports Editor
When the Lady Cougars of Wind River failed to win any of their first seven matches of the season, the last thing head coach Jamie Lockhart was worried about was individual accolades.
However, after an amazing turnaround to her club's campaign, Lockhart has been named Fremont County volleyball coach of the year by the sports staff of The Ranger, Lander Journal and Wind River News.
Beginning with a victory on Sept. 1 against Riverside, the Lady Cougars recovered quite nicely, posting a 15-7 mark the rest of the way to finish the season dead even at 15-8.
Included in the Wind River's run was a five-match winning streak, which began with the initial victory over the Lady Rebels and a straight-sets win against Fremont County rivals Shoshoni on Oct. 28 by a 3-0 (25-23, 25-23, 25-23) score.
According to Lockhart, who took over the head coaching position this year after three seasons as an assistant, the triumph over Lady Blue went a long way toward validating what she and her squad had been working for.
"We had a tough couple of weeks, but then went on to play Shoshoni on their court," said Lockhart. "We beat them in three sets and with Shoshoni being a tough team, that match really gave us the confidence and realization that we had what it takes to be successful.We continued to play well for the remainder of the season."
Indeed, the Lady Cougars seized on the momentum gained to finish third at the Class 2-A West regional tournament in Lander to book a trip to Casper for the state event.
Another watershed moment was a tournament victory in Sheridan, which further bolstered her club's confidence, said Lockhart.
"Throughout the season, we had high points and low points, but one of our highlights was winning the gold bracket at the Big Horn tournament," she said."Coming off two tough tournaments and going into that tournament was a big turning point for my team.Our serve receive and defense really came together to beat Greybull for the championship in the gold bracket."
It was a winning habit which carried on after that, said Lockhart.
"During the regional tournament, we beat Shoshoni out to make it to the state tournament, but we didn't stop there," she said, of another victory over Lady Blue, this one on the second day of the tourney in Lander."We beat Lovell for the second time to place third.At the state tournament, my girls played until the very end. Even though we started out with a loss, we took Wright to four sets and beat Lusk out of the tournament to make it to Saturday's games.Greybull is a tough team and we fought hard, but fell short to them ending our season, but one we can be proud of."
As far as the rough start to the season is concerned, emphasis was placed not on the win-loss record, but the learning process, said Lockhart.
"The first two weeks of practices are tough because without competition, it's hard to focus on specific skills individuals need to concentrate on and what we needed to improve on as a team," she said. "Which is why I love that we play in tournaments for the first four weeks of the season and not any of our conference games.We're able to focus on specific skills after each tournament to improve as a team.With our tough start, I would remind the girls that even though each game is important, the number of wins and losses didn't matter at that point.We're learning and improving each and every game and I'm so proud of my girls because they stayed focused and continued to work hard and improve after each game."
For Lockhart, that kind of big-picture mentality is what has been the foundation of her overall coaching philosophy, she said.
"As a coach, I believe playing a team sport is so much more than just playing a game.I value teamwork, positiveness and drive or work ethic and believe those attributes in each player will not only make the team successful, but will benefit the player throughout their lives. I set high expectations for all girls on the team, but at the same time create a positive environment where they want to come in every single day and perform at the level that is expected of them."
Moving over one place on the bench is a small physical distance, but an enormous shift when one goes from assistant status to head coach, one which Lockhart embraced in this, her first year as a bench boss, she said.
"Head coach is exactly that -- head coach.There a lot of components that go into head coaching assistant coaches don't have to worry about," said Lockhart."There are a lot more responsibilities as the head coach that are not difficult -- just time-consuming -- but very important to a successful program, such as stats and film."
Not only that, but as the head coach, one is expected to be the standard-bearer and set the tone for an entire program, said Lockhart.
"As the head coach, you set the expectations for the whole team and plan the practices that will not only benefit the varsity team, but the freshman and junior varsity teams, as well," she said. "I really enjoyed being head coach because I felt like I had a focus and something to work toward every single day."
When the chance to become the Lady Cougars' head coach presented itself, it was an offer she couldn't refuse, said Lockhart.
"I've always loved volleyball and when the coaching position opened up, I thought it would be a great opportunity to get involved in extracurricular activities within my school district," she said."I enjoy getting to see some of my students in a different setting and getting to know them on a different level."
However, through it all, Lockhart knows although she's at the top of the chain-of-command, there are many others involved with her -- and her team's -- success, she said.
"As a first-year head coach, I had a lot to learn," said Lockhart. "But, with my assistant coach and the support system throughout my district, the parents and the players, I truly enjoyed being the head coach. I look forward to next year and being able to improve as a coach every single season."