“It felt great to get the two wins for these girls who work so hard. Matt and the girls put in so much time and work hard, so I was happy I was able to contribute to this team.”
— Norm Yoast, Moffat County High School girls freshmen basketball coach, on stepping in as MCHS girls varsity coach over the weekend
Last week, Matt Ray received news that required him to put his coaching job on the back burner.
Ray, head coach of the Moffat County High School girls varsity basketball team, learned his mother-in-law had died.
The Bulldogs had a big game coming up in Delta with a chance to take a step closer to a share of the league title.
However, Ray’s family took precedence and he had to leave town.
In stepped Norm Yoast, regularly the MCHS girls freshmen basketball coach, to take the helm of the varsity.
“Norm was my first choice,” Ray said. “We have been together since he took over the freshmen coaching job and he knows the system pretty well.
“He is the freshmen coach and I am the varsity coach, but I think of us as co-coaches and this is our program.”
Yoast has 21 years of basketball coaching experience across Colorado, but he’s never coached a varsity team.
Still, he felt confident stepping in for Ray.
“I had no second thoughts because I have worked with Matt long enough to know what he does,” Yoast said. “I had watched enough film on Delta that I knew what they were going to do and the girls put in the work during the week to know what Matt wanted them to do.”
The Bulldogs lost to Delta at home earlier in the season and needed a road win to have a chance to force a three-way tie atop the Western Slope League.
Yoast and the Bulldogs delivered, etching out a 61-60 victory with a last second lay-up from senior Melissa Camilletti.
The next day, the Bulldogs went into Palisade and left with a 48-36 win, again with Yoast in charge.
“It felt great to get the two wins for these girls who work so hard,” Yoast said. “Matt and the girls put in so much time and work hard, so I was happy I was able to contribute to this team.”
In the Delta game, the Panthers took a one-point lead with 8 seconds remaining and Yoast called a timeout to draw up a play.
Camilletti said the original plan was to get the ball inbounds to her and draw a foul.
The officials didn’t make the call, so Camilletti drove to the bucket.
“I tried to go hard and thought (Delta) would stop me and foul,” she said. “There was some reaching, but no call, so I started to panic a little bit, but when it is happening that fast, you don’t have time to think, you just go. As soon as the ball left my hand, the buzzer went off.”
Working with varsity players, Yoast said he had more options than he typically does with his freshmen on the inbound call.
“I think one of the main things different about the varsity was they have a lot more options for inbound plays,” he said. “The freshmen can only run about two, but varsity has a lot more.
“With the freshmen, you have to keep things simple, but the varsity players had a greater multitude of things they were capable of doing.”
Yoast said Ray worked up the Delta game plan before he left, and for the most part, Yoast stuck to it.
The defensive scheme stayed basically the same, but Yoast said he made some offensive adjustments once the game got going.
“On defense, the girls did what they had to with getting their hands up and not giving up easy shots,” he said. “On offense, though, I had to tweak the attack zone for what would work. They knew everything from punching it into the post to kicking it out, but we had to move things around throughout the game.”
Senior Annie Sadvar said all the varsity players played for Yoast when they were freshmen, so knew what to expect.
It was “nerve racking” not to have Ray on the sideline, Sadvar said, but Yoast kept players grounded.
“(Yoast) kind of did his own thing mixed with what Matt had coached us,” she said. “He was chill, and even when the game was tight, he was relaxed because he coaches in a calm style while Matt may have been more panicked.”
MCHS, Delta and Glenwood each have two league losses following the Bulldogs victory over Glenwood on Tuesday.
Ray said the Bulldogs wouldn’t be vying for a second straight piece of the league title today without Yoast’s contributions.
“It is phenomenal what they were able to do and it says a lot about the team,” he said of the weekend victories. “It wasn’t what anyone wanted to happen, but they overcame adversity and went into (Delta’s) house and took a huge step as a team.”
Yoast said he enjoyed the experience, but he is happy sticking with his freshmen team.
As a science teacher at Craig Middle School, he said he is best in the positions he has now.
“I told Matt he couldn’t get sick or leave because I’m happy to work in the background,” he said. “When the JV job opened up this season, I told Matt I wanted to stay with the freshmen. I think I serve as a good bridge from knowing these kids in middle school and helping them in their move to being freshmen.
“I am glad I got the opportunity, but I’d like to stick with the freshmen.”