New Hillsboro girls’ hoops coach anticipates first lead role

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Hillsboro High School’s newly hired girls’ basketball coach, Melissa Stenfors, will bring 10 years of coaching experience to the court this winter.

That all of her experience in basketball is as an assistant coach, and at a variety of places, should not give Trojan fans pause that she’s isn’t ready to take on the job.

“I would be leery, too, if someone said ‘first-time head coach,'” she said. “But at the same time, everybody’s got to start somewhere.”

Stenforsth said she’s thrilled to start at HHS.

“I’ve always known about Hillsboro-it’s famous,” said Stenfors, who was born in Clay Center and went through the Bennington school system.

“Down here, it’s just the Mecca of basketball,” she said. “You’ve got Hillsboro, McPherson, Moundridge and Little River-those four alone are just amazing. I’ve always talked about this area when I talk about basketball in Kansas.”

Stenfors almost lived in Hillsboro coming out of high school. She was planning to play at Tabor College, but when the head coach resigned unexpectedly, she opted to sign at Bethany College.

Even so, Hillsboro had made an impression on her.

“When I came here on a recruiting visit, I knew instantly that there was something about being here that just put me at ease,” she said.

But it would take a while for the two to reconnect.

A 1992 Bennington High grad, Stenfors started her college career playing basketball and volleyball as planned. A basketball injury during her sophomore year led her to try softball, and later she played on Bethany’s first women’s soccer team.

The injury also have her a chance to gather coaching experience. She stepped into assistant roles in basketball and volleyball at Salina Central for three years, as well as stints at Smoky Valley and Ell-Saline.

Her first teaching job after graduating from Bethany in fall 1996 was at Madison, where she coached at the junior-high level before getting a call back to Salina Central for two more years. She then accepted an assistant’s position back at Bethany for one year.

Getting what she called the “college coaching bug” there, Stenfors went to Adams State College in Colorado as a graduate assistant. While working on her master’s degree in physiology, exercise and leisure sciences, she helped coach volleyball and basketball there.

After completing her degree in 2002, Stenfors was a substitute teacher for a semester before taking a teaching and coaching job at Jefferson County North, near Topeka. She was head volleyball coach at the Class 2A school as well as assistant basketball coach.

Most recently, she has been at Lawrence High School, where she worked on grants for a drug-prevention program-and, of course, coached on the side.

Stenfors said she realizes her resume is long and varied.

“This sounds like I have no commitment to a town, but I’m really happy to be in Hillsboro,” she said. “I’m settling here for a long time.”

Stenfors said she knew she wanted the Hillsboro position as soon as she saw it advertized. In addition to being head basketball coach and assistant volleyball coach, her primary task will be teaching physical education at the elementary school.

“I have a strong faith in God and definitely believe he’s worked this out to what it’s supposed to be,” she said.

Stenfors had looked into several other good jobs, but for various reasons they didn’t work out.

“I was really frustrated. Then this thing popped up and I went, ‘Oh, this is my dream job.’ I get to teach the little kids, which I love-they’re so energetic and fun-and then I get to coach big kids.

“In a nutshell, I’m excited.”

Stenfors said fans can look for her basketball teams to play an up-tempo game.

“Just through the little I know about the personnel, I know we’ve got some pretty fast girls,” she said. “Fast-breaking will definitely come into play. Personally, I like to run and gun, I really do.”

Stenfors said she builds her defensive attack on man coverage, but believes there’s a time and place for zone, too.

“If they’re getting comfortable and are hitting shots, we’ll switch and throw a wrinkle at them that will throw them out of rhythym, hopefully.”

Beyond court tactics, Stenfors said her first commitment is to look out for the girls who play under her.

“I’m a people person,” she said. “If kids are good and they work hard and are respectful, that makes coaching so fun and so fulfilling.”

The only apprehension Stenfors mentioned about her new position is filling the shoes of her predecessor, Becky Carlson.

“Those are big shoes,” Stenfors said. “She’s known throughout the state. I’ve listend to her speak at clinics. She’s a legend.

“In that respect, she’s had 20-plus years of experience and I have assistant training for 10 years-but even she was a first-year head coach here.

“I’m just hoping I’m given the shot I need to really work the girls. I really want to work with them and see what we can do.”

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