The new big man on campus |

The new big man on campus

Matt Ray ready for his role as head girls hoops boss

David Pressgrove

Turn the clock back 18 years and picture Matt Ray as a high school senior.

At the time, he was running wind sprints and working through drills under the observation of coach Craig Mortensen.

"I thought Mort was hard and rigid," Ray said. "Those were through high school eyes. Sometimes I thought I couldn't ever do anything right for him."

Fast forward to today and Ray is three weeks into taking over for Mortensen as the head coach for the Moffat County High School girls basketball team. Not only that, he spent the last eight years on the sideline alongside his former coach.

"Behind the scenes I saw a much different side to what I thought of Mort in high school," Ray said. "He cares and has concern about making the best all-around player and person possible."

Those are goals one would hear from most coaches who take a high school job. But Mortensen stuck with his plan with longevity that is uncommon. He has spent 30 years coaching in Moffat County and accumulated 514 wins.

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Ray is aware that he is stepping into big shoes.

He said he hopes that with his own experience and with what he learned in the eight years under Mortensen, he will be able build on the winning tradition both on and off the court.

Coming back home

Ray graduated from MCHS in 1992 and then attended Central Christian College in McPherson, Kan. After two years at CCC, he transferred to Spring Arbor College in Spring Arbor, Mich.

After graduation, he moved back to the area and helped coach middle school and high school basketball in Hayden. In 2002, Ray accepted the freshman girls coaching job for Moffat County. After three years, he moved into the junior varsity job.

It took some adjustment for Ray to see Mortensen as someone other than his high school coach.

"At first I didn't see him as a peer," he said. "But as we progressed we started to share philosophies and opinions and eventually I was able to see him as a fellow coach."

Ray had success with the younger programs. His junior varsity teams regularly had a winning percentage of .800 or better.

Early adjustments

It didn't take long for Ray to realize the changes that come with his new role as head coach.

"Instead of being a sounding board, you become the decision maker," he said. "A head coach has to make most of the important decisions. I've learned a lot already and probably would have made some different choices if I had to do it again, but you have to believe in your decisions."

There are also a lot more eyes on a head coach.

"I've learned there will be conflict because you can't please everybody," Ray said. "But I can't take it personal."

Both the boys and girls head coaching positions were open after last season. Ray had the opportunity to go for either job. He chose to pursue the position with the girls team.

"The standard is set for the girls," he said. "The system is in place and I didn't see the transition as anything but smooth. For the boys, I felt like it would be starting from the ground level."

Ray recognized that the higher standard could potentially provide more pressure, but he said he welcomes the challenge.

Since Ray has been at Moffat County, the girls varsity team has won the Western Slope League six times. They have finished second in the league three times.

This year, he's expecting similar results.

"We have a pretty young team but our five seniors have the potential to provide leadership," he said. "This is a group that works extremely hard and picks up things quickly. They also enjoy being around each other."

The team had three players graduate from its 12-13 (9-5 in the Western Slope League) effort last year. A majority of its scoring returns with seniors Lauren Roberts, Britteny Ivers, Maddy Jourgensen, Callie Papoulos, and Nike Cleverly as well as juniors Melissa Camilletti and Annie Sadvar.

Camilletti, Roberts and Sadvar led the team in points throughout the team's first three games of the season in the Shanon Johnson Tournament hosted earlier this month at Uintah High School in Vernal, Utah. The team won two of the three games against Utah and Wyoming schools.

The players are adjusting to having Ray at the helm.

Senior Britteny Ivers said that it was easy to tell that Ray worked hard to get his program in place.

"He came to our first practice with notebooks with all the plays," she said. "He was organized and ready to go."

Ray said organization is what he will strive to perfect as a coach.

"I like to run things to a T," he said. "It takes me forever to make a practice plan because I want to make sure everything has a purpose and is clear to the girls."

As the junior varsity coach, Ray said he spent his time at practice talking to players and instructing them mostly in one-on-one situations or off to the side of practice. Now, as a head coach, he said he has to approach corrections more with a team focus.

"I have to make the overall changes and adjustments for the whole team," he said. "There is definitely a balance of when to make a point in front of everybody. You don't want to single anybody out unless it is a lesson the entire team needs to learn from."

And sometimes that point needs to be loud or stern.

"I never understood why Mort would put so much pressure on us in practice," he said. "But I understand now that the more adversity you face in practice, the better you will handle it in a game situation."

MCHS girls varsity basketball team’s 2010-11 schedule:

Day Date Opponent Place Time

Thursday Dec. 9 Montrose Steamboat Springs 8:15 p.m.

Friday Dec. 10 TBA Steamboat Springs TBA

Saturday Dec. 11 TBA Steamboat Springs TBA

Monday Dec. 13 GJ Central HOME 6 p.m.

Thursday Dec. 16 Rifle Palisade Tournament 3 p.m.

Friday Dec. 17 Montezuma Cortez Palisade Tournament 4:30 p.m.

Saturday Dec. 18 Palisade Palisade Tournament 1 p.m.

Saturday Jan 8 Glenwood Springs HOME 2 p.m.

Tuesday Jan. 11 Grand Junction HOME 6 p.m.

Friday Jan. 14 Eagle Valley EV High School 6 p.m.

Saturday Jan. 15 Battle Mountain HOME 4 p.m.

Friday Jan. 21 Delta Delta High School 6 p.m.

Saturday Jan. 22 Palisade Palisade High School 1 p.m.

Friday Jan. 28 Steamboat Springs SS High School 6 p.m.

Saturday Feb. 4 Eagle Valley HOME 12:30 p.m.

Friday Feb. 11 Delta HOME 6 p.m.

Saturday Feb. 12 Palisade HOME 2 p.m.

Tuesday Feb. 15 Glenwood Springs Glenwood Springs 6 p.m.

Friday Feb. 18 Steamboat Springs HOME 6 p.m.

Top returners

Seniors – Maddy Jourgen, Britteny Ivers, Callie Papoulas, Lauren Roberts and Nike Cleverly

Juniors – Annie Sadvar and Melissa Camilletti

Last season:

12-13 overall, 9-5 in the Western Slope League (tied for second)

Lost in the second round of the state playoffs