LEDGER – Zack McCartha is working on restoring a winning culture to the Mitchell High School girls’ basketball program.
McCartha is fresh off of his first season as the team’s head coach, during which he led the Mountaineers to a 14-12 record and a state playoff win.
The team won double-digit games for the first time since going 11-13 during the 2011-12 season and finished above .500 for the first time since finishing 25-5 in 2009-10.
McCartha spent five seasons as head junior varsity girls’ basketball coach at McDowell before joining Mitchell. He said his players immediately bought into his philosophies.
“Everything seemed to be really positive,” he said. “They worked hard and we made a lot of strides. From the beginning, they were open to trying new stuff.”
Trying new things was one of McCartha’s mantras. The Mountaineers won just 17 games during the three seasons before he took over the reins.
“They had struggled a little bit and were really willing to try whatever,” McCartha said. “The adjustment period wasn’t that difficult.”
The Mountaineers notched a 51-35 state playoff win at River Mill Academy before being edged by two points at top-seeded Cherokee in the second round.
Mitchell missed a shot at the buzzer that would have tied the game and taken home-standing Cherokee to overtime. Instead, it was another important learning experience for McCartha and his team.
“We battled so hard,” McCartha said about the playoffs. “That was the experience they needed to be able to say, ‘You know what, coach was right.’ I told them all year there’s no team in 1A classification that we can’t play with.”
The Mountaineers return all of their starters and graduate just one player from this past year’s team.
“Everybody that played major minutes will return,” McCartha said. “Not only are they returning, but they’re extremely smart. We would do things this summer where they would just tell me they’ve got it and they remember everything I’ve taught them and that’s really nice.”
McCartha credits the team’s resurgence with a simple idea – restoring tradition.
Mitchell’s girls team won Class AA state championships during the 1995-96 and 2002-03 seasons and won 74 games from 2007 to 2010. McCartha said that type of success is what his team craves. During the hot summer practices, the second-year coach only has to mention the word tradition to get his players motivated.
“It’s something I’ve really tried to embrace and emphasize with these girls,” McCartha said. “We talk about the tradition that is there and trying to restore that and they’re really into that. When they were little, that winning was a big part of what they know of Mitchell girls’ basketball and we’re working hard to restore that.”