Become a digitalPLUS subscriber. 99¢ for 4 weeks.

Coaching guides Hampton, Kecoughtan and Woodside to the state semifinals

Blaine TaylorGene HackmanThomas Edison

There are reasons why none of them would have lasted this long. Hampton has the size of a team from the '50s, Kecoughtan runs more hot and cold than the weather of late, and Woodside has as much depth as Gene Hackman's group in "Hoosiers."

Yet here they are, the second week of March, all having survived and in the state semifinals in Richmond.

The Crabbers and Warriors make up half of the Group AAA's version of the Final Four in the boys tournament. The Wolverines are trying to become the Peninsula District's third girls champion in the past six years.

The common denominator? Coaching.

Hampton's Walter Brower, Kecoughtan's Ivan Thomas and Woodside's Mike Tallon each have won at least one state championship. Brower and Tallon, the veterans who won't reveal their ages, have won more than 500 games apiece. Thomas, the young pup at 37, is closing in on 200.

Brower's counterpart Wednesday night, Henrico's Vance Harmon, is making his first semifinal appearance in 11 seasons of coaching. Thomas' opposing coach, Petersburg's Rick Hite, is in his first season.

Browner and Thomas have been there and done that. It might not be the determining factor, but it can only be a plus.

"Sure it matters," Menchville boys coach Dennis Koutoufas said about championship experience. "You bet it matters."

Let's start with Brower, whose 30-year resume includes a 531-229 record (.699) with state titles in 1997 and '89. This is his fifth trip to the semifinals.

And he's been at the same school for three decades. That almost never happens anymore.

"He's one of those coaches I envy because he's been so successful at one place," Nansemond River coach Ed Young said. "That's kind of hard to do. People say he has good talent year in and year out. Well, it's one thing to have talent, but it's another to be very consistent and win."

Young, whose team lost to Hampton in the Eastern Region quarterfinals, admires how Brower gets his players to stay on script.

"His teams are always disciplined," he said. "Sometimes people use that word because a team isn't talented and can't get up and down. He has athletes who can get up and down, but he's got them disciplined and doing what he wants them to do."

Young knows Thomas well, too. He coached him in high school at Norview, where Thomas was an undersized post man. Asked what kind of player Thomas was, Young said, "I once told him, 'Son, as a basketball player, you'll make a great coach one day.' "

Thomas got his start at Thomas Edison in Alexandria. His first team finished 6-16, but the next two went 34-15. He then moved across town to T.C. Williams, which advanced to the state quarterfinals in 2007 and won the championship in '08. The Titans beat Bethel in the final.

When his wife got a job in Williamsburg, Thomas left T.C. and joined her. The Kecoughtan job became vacant after Joel Hines left to join Blaine Taylor's staff at Old Dominion. The Warriors pounced, and Thomas took it.

His first team on Woodland Road went 12-11, but the next — with an influx of transfers that included Dimitri Batten — won 19 games. After a slip to 14-11 last year, the result of an amazing string of injuries, the Warriors are in the state semifinals for the first time since 1995.

"Ivan continues to work with talented athletes and have them perform on a high level against stiff competition," Bethel coach Craig Brehon said. "His teams are well prepared and his system allows them to have success, but in a structured environment.

"To take more than one team to the state playoffs means that you can coach and your team is prepared. Luck is preparation meeting opportunity."

Tallon's 570 wins rank third in the VHSL record book. His Phoebus team won the state championship in 1992, and this will be his fifth trip to the semifinals (his first with Woodside).

Actually, he's won two state championships. After taking last spring off, he's going into his 12th season as the Wolverines' softball coach. One of his 184 victories came in the 2001 state championship final.

Tallon is one of three coaches in the girls' semifinals with a proven track record. Oakton's Fred Priester, Tallon's quarterfinal counterpart, has won 555 games and made the semifinals five times. Princess Anne's Darnell Dozier has four state titles along with an absurd record of 439-40 in 17 seasons.

Franklin Harris is in his fourth season at Highland Springs, which is making its first semifinal appearance.

This year's Woodside team has nobody taller than 6-foot wing Alecia Bell. The bench is so thin that Tallon played all five starters the entire game in last week's quarterfinal win over William Fleming.

"One thing about Coach Tallon is, he's very straight forward with his kids in terms of their capabilities," Warwick coach Vanessa Starks said. "A lot of times, kids don't like the fact that they're not playing, but he's all about winning. He gets the kids to buy into what they're trying to do. That's how he wins."

Koutoufas doesn't get to see Woodside's girls play that often, but he's seen enough to know what makes them go.

"The kids love to play for him," Koutoufas said. "There's a uniqueness about him. Even when he was coaching the guys for a bit (at Phoebus), they wanted to play for him. He gets a ton of mileage out of that. You can see it from their faces, they believe in him and want to play for him."

WALTER BROWER

SCHOOL: Hampton

WINS: 531

SEASONS: 30

STATE TITLES: 2

IVAN THOMAS

SCHOOL: Kecoughtan

WINS: 184

SEASONS: 10

STATE TITLES: 1

MIKE TALLON

SCHOOL: Woodside

WINS: 570

SEASONS: 30

STATE TITLES: 1

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
Blaine TaylorGene HackmanThomas Edison
Comments
Loading