Dave Byers has a simple philosophy, one that should be a coaching tenet.
"The biggest thing I try to do is teach how to play the game," said Byers, who opens his 21st season as Westminster's coach tonight at Sherwood in Sandy Spring. "There are not a lot of natural players, and we're not in the same situations as some of the Class 4A schools, where they roll out the ball and go."
Over the years, Byers seems to have gotten his message across better than many coaches.
For his 20 Westminster seasons, Byers' teams have had winning records 10 times, losing records nine times, and one team finished at .500.
But along the way, he has had 18 winning seasons against county opposition and has either won or shared 13 county championships.
The Owls' Class 4A East regional final last season was their deepest appearance of the post-season since the 1980 team achieved the same level.
Which is good, considering that since 1991, all of the state Class 4A finalists, except for Meade in 1993, have come from suburban Washington and Baltimore City.
Since the state tournament began in 1927, Westminster has been to the event only twice, winning a championship in 1947 and gaining the semifinals in 1964.
The 19-6 record Westminster had in 1980 was the high-water mark for Byers' Westminster years, followed by last season's 16-9 log.
That team featured five seniors, including Desmond Esteves, a three-time All-County choice, and Aaron Krug, who was a two-time selection.
Byers' coaching philosophy sounds so easy, but getting the most out of players involves plenty. Byers has polished his techniques over the years.
A graduate of Westminster and what is now Towson University, Byers spent seven years teaching and coaching at Francis Scott Key before moving to Westminster.
"My last year at Key was Jim Carnes' first year at South Carroll," Byers said. "We've had a good rivalry over the years."
The two easily out-distance the rest of the county coaches in terms of service.
"The one thing I tell my players before we play Westminster is that they will have to pick up their intensity two or three levels," Carnes said. "We know there is going to be pressure all over."
Last winter, the Owls started 6-1 and were 11-4 in late January.
Then came four successive losses to Frederick County schools before the team recovered with five straight wins to gain the regional final.
"Last year's team knew how to play," Byers said, "and they played together, not as individuals. They were smart, played hard, and were coachable.
"We could put something in, and they knew what we wanted because they had done it in some form before. In the playoffs, we beat Old Mill, then had two great games -- against Glen Burnie and Annapolis.
"I know the Glen Burnie coach was legitimately surprised to see the way our kids played."
Down by 10, Westminster went on a 30-13 spree for a 38-31 halftime lead and protected it to the finish, winning 66-61. Opposing coach Mike Rudd said, "Every time we made a run, they would come back with something."
Against Annapolis, a power in Anne Arundel County, the Owls fell behind early, but six three-pointers kept them alive, 25-22, by halftime. Down 38-31, Byers decided the team needed to go inside more, and it closed to 39-38, and eventually had the lead twice in the fourth quarter.
From a tie at the end of regulation, two free throws from Bowman provided the last tie at 52 before Annapolis forged a 55-52 victory.
Of his team, Byers said, "They knew how to play, had the skills, and had a good time."
While this year's squad may not measure up on all these counts, it will be competitive, molded in the Byers tradition of tenacious defense.
The Byers record
Year ...... County ..... Overall
1978-79 ... ..... ...... Unavailable
1979-80 ... 6-0 ........ 19-6
1980-81 ... 3-1 ........ 7-15
1981-82 ... 1-3 ........ 2-20
1982-83 ... 3-1 ........ 13-11
1983-84 ... 4-1 ........ 9-13
1984-85 ... 1-3 ........ 5-17
1985-86 ... 6-1 ........ 11-11
1986-87 ... 6-1 ........ 14-9
1987-88 ... 6-1 ........ 15-8
1988-89 ... 5-2 ........ 13-10
1989-90 ... 5-2 ........ 12-10
1990-91 ... 6-0 ........ 13-7
1991-92 ... 5-2 ........ 10-12
1992-93 ... 7-0 ........ 14-9
1993-94 ... 5-1 ........ 9-12
1994-95 ... 4-2 ........ 6-16
1995-96 ... 5-1 ........ 9-14
1996-97 ... 5-1 ........ 9-14
1997-98 ... 6-0 ........ 16-9
Source: Bruce Cowan
Pub Date: 12/04/98