Sam Green/Cortez Journal Interim coach Tim Kercher explains a drill during the Dolores girls basketball practice Tuesday.

By Bobby Abplanalp Journal staff writer

Dolores High School’s girls basketball team has been there and done that, so to speak.

The Lady Bears have won San Juan Basin League and district titles under coach John McHenry.

However, Dolores hasn’t been able to win at regionals.

The Lady Bears know they’re good. But they want to be great.

It’s state tournament or bust this year.

“This season, I’m very excited,” said senior shooting guard Lexi Atkinson. “I feel we have everything that we need to make it past regionals and possibly compete for state. We can make it past regionals.”

A successful pedigree is there for Dolores. Four starters are back. A tall, skillful transfer from Colorado Springs in Samantha Tate has gleefully been welcomed to the program.

There is one major change, though; and, that is a different head coach.

McHenry has been suspended this season by DHS, pending police charges due to a legal incident in October.

Interim coach Tim Kercher is in charge. He is an English teacher at the school and brings a different style of coaching to Dolores — a coaching style from overseas.

Kercher taught and coached abroad in the Republic of Georgia and Kiev, Ukraine. He coached boys basketball in eastern Europe.

This is Kercher’s first girls basketball coaching job. He previously taught at Montezuma-Cortez High School.

“This is a new experience,” Kercher said. “I have two daughters. I thought it was time to start thinking about that (coaching girls).”

Senior leading scorer Cydney McHenry will run the point guard position. Atkinson and Brianna Schwartz will be deadly shooting from each wing, and senior Mindy McCracken will play power forward.

So far, the players have adapted to coach Kercher.

“With this new coach, this new system and now that we have that post play with shooters, we’ll be able to excel very well,” said Atkinson, who has improved her already strong outside shooting. “The girls really opened up to his system, and we’re willing to take that system in and learn from it. Overall, it’s going to benefit us in the end.”

In Europe, the basketball style is to push the tempo and score in bunches. The Lady Bears will do that, but also play tough defense and snatch up every loose ball.

“Every defensive possession is war,” Kercher said. “I want to be a hustle team. A team that grabs the rebounds, grabs loose balls. I think that translates into fast-break points. It all starts with defense.”

The Lady Bears are getting their defensive groove on today at Sangre de Cristo’s three-day Thunderbird Tournament in Mosca.

Tate, a senior, greatly fits Kercher’s hard nosed, defensive philosophy.

“She is going to be something else inside. She’s just a presence. She’s very skilled,” the coach said about Tate. “She actually started for a 5A team is Colorado Springs. She brings another dimension to our team.”

After the San Luis Valley tourney, the Lady Bears have a Dec. 6, road game against the Durango junior varsity to conclude nonconference play.

San Juan Basin League competition begins against rivals Dove Creek (road) and Mancos (home) on Dec. 15 and 20.

“I’ve watched some games on tape, so I’ve got to adjust to that,” said Kercher about the SJBL opponents. “I always say ‘You play against the game of basketball.’ I feel this team can experience a lot of success this year. You play hard, play smart, play together and have fun.”

Game time tip off at Sangre de Cristo High School has yet to be determined. Tournament play ends Saturday.

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