By Ryan Costello, Staff Writer Enid News and Eagle
Just about everyone saw the final result of the Enid News & Eagle’s All-Northwest girls basketball coach of the year coming.
Burlington skipper Randy Turney, the winner of the boys coach of the year for the eighth time this season, watched Alva girls coach Eric Smith in his playing days at Burlington, barely missing a chance to coach the high-scoring high-schooler.
Now, Smith is a colleague, both in the ranks of Oklahoma’s high school basketball coaches, and after votes by fellow coaches were tallied this week, is in the members-only club of men and women tabbed their region’s best coach.
“He’s a great, great, guy, and as good a coach as there is,” said Turney, whose selection this year comes after his final season.
Fairview girls coach Mike Barton, one of Smith’s greatest rivals and best friends in the field, also gave his blessing, passing the torch after winning the same award last season.
“We’ve had a really good rivalry,” Barton said, who regaled with stories of the pair’s games, the two often giving defensive instructions to mirror each other’s offensive play calls, each knowing the other’s well enough to have written them.
“You don’t know that play!” Barton once shouted to Smith after his play call triggered a seemingly tailored defensive adjustment. “It was put in yesterday!”
Turns out, the only one surprised by the selection was the winner himself.
“Of all the coaches, that’s the best you can come up with?” joked Smith, who coached the Lady Goldbugs to the 2A State Championship game, where they lost 53-36 to undefeated Northeast. “That’s pretty cool.”
Even more so considering Smith, once a record-holding scorer for Burlington’s boys basketball team, is the first of any of them to win All-Northwest honors as both a player and a coach.
In his eighth year leading the Lady Goldbugs — he coached boys a year apiece at Dover and Lomega beforehand — Smith took Alva to its first state tournament since 2006, and to its first state championship game since 2004. The Lady Goldbugs last won in 2003, when they still were in Class 3A.
The trip was a dream for freshman Jaden Hobbs, but she wasn’t happiest for herself or even her teammates.
“Now that it’s coming true, I’m speechless,” Hobbs said after scoring 33 in Alva’s state semifinal win against Dale. “I’m incredibly happy for me, and my team, and my family, and especially my coach.”
So Smith, often an intense sideline presence during games, knows how hard to push to gain the adoration of his team.
“Hopefully because they know how hard this coaching staff works,” Smith said. “We worked hard all year watching tape and getting gameplans together ... I’m pretty fiery, and I demand a lot from our kids, and I think they respond to that.”
The response may only be getting started.
Alva started three sophomores and a freshman in 2012-13. The team’s only starting upperclassman, senior Jayna Hadwiger, missed substantial time during the regular season with an illness, and the Lady Goldbugs still finished 25-5 on the season. Among next year’s returners are Hobbs, one of the state’s most potent scorers even as a freshman, as well as solid juniors-to-be Morgan Shiever, Bailey Forell and Lora Riley, who started the title game. Kally Gordon, another sophomore who started in place of Hadwiger, also will return.
“Those are some big shoes to fill in Jayna’s spot, but I think we can do that,” Smith said. “I hope so. Right now, we’re trying to figure out what we’re going to do this summer and hopefully play some really good competition and get better and better.”
Stay tuned. Smith’s first-time coaching honor may not be his last. l