Morgan Hardies working to rebuild Atlanta girls basketball program
ATLANTA — Can a former Hillman Tiger turn around the Atlanta girls basketball program?
Morgan Hardies is going to try.
Hardies wanted to be a coach for the same reasons anyone wants to coach: It’s a chance to pass on her knowledge of the game. It’s a chance to mold, teach, and lead young players. It’s a chance to use sports to teach players important life lessons.
It just so happens that at 26 years old, Hardies has been handed the keys to arguably one of the toughest jobs in the North Star League.
Not that she’s complaining, but to say it’s a tall task is like saying water is wet.
A quick quiz for you, the reader:
When was the last time Atlanta had a winning record?
When was the last time Atlanta won a district title?
How many coaches has Atlanta had in the last 10 years?
The correct answers are 2002, 1996 and five.
Hardies knows all about the perception of Atlanta. She knows exactly what she’s up against and knows she can’t turn the Huskies into winners overnight.
But she, along with assistants and Hillman alums Katelyn (Kenyon) Tucker and Ed Tucker, are determined to change the course of a program that was once Hillman’s biggest rival.
“We’re not gonna be able to work miracles in the first year. On top of low numbers, you know, everything that we have going against us, it’s gonna take a while to build up, get them in a winning mindset, get just plays and everything going for all of us working together,” Hardies said. “Even just like me as a coach, getting used to the game and everything (will take time).”
‘WE HAVE TO BE ABLE TO GROW’
Every program goes through ups-and-downs, but in recent years the Huskies have had more downs than ups.
Wins have been hard to come by, sometimes really hard. There have been several stretches where the Huskies have gone seasons — not games — but multiple consecutive seasons without a win.
They’re also one of only three North Star League teams not to win a district in the last decade, along with Whittemore-Prescott and Hale.
Bottom line: Atlanta hasn’t exactly put a scare into anybody and teams know exactly who they’re up against.
Atlanta has had five coaches since 2010 and one of them — Melony Haskin — has coached the Huskies twice in that span. I’ll take it a step further. Since 1996, the Huskies have had at least 10 different head coaches; one every 2.5 years.
That’s hardly enough to build anything long-lasting and essentially left a program stuck at square one for a lot of years.
It’s a far cry from the days when players like Laura Parks, Ashley Blackmer and others led successful Atlanta teams; back when the Huskies were routinely competitive, pushed their rivals and played competitively in the postseason.
Hardies even remembers Atlanta being a tough matchup for her older sisters when they played for Hillman in the mid 2000s.
Now Hardies is ready to embark on a new era of Atlanta basketball and she’s ready to build the Huskies into a team that isn’t afraid to play anybody.
“We have to be able to grow together and as a team. Without growth and determination and hard work, our team of six won’t be able to show our competitors that we mean business,” Hardies told The News’ earlier this season. “I am hopeful and determined myself that Atlanta girls athletics will turn their mindset around and we are here to fight back.”
KEEPING AN OPEN MIND
Some days, practices have been about taking baby steps, especially if players struggle with fundamentals.
At a recent midweek practice, Hardies, Ed Tucker and Katelyn Tucker took players through the finer points of defending against pick and rolls and running a press. The three coaches played on one team along with two Atlanta players against Atlanta’s other five players. The coaches demonstrated proper positioning, proper footwork and even showed off their scoring touch during drills.
It’s that attention to detail former Hillman coach John Kuzewski saw from Hardies during her playing career. As Hillman’s center, Hardies was often tasked with guarding some of the North Star League’s best, including Posen’s Korynn Hincka.
Hincka was a tough matchup for anybody, but Hardies held her own, displaying good footwork and good defense on the way to earning second team All-Alpena News honors as a junior and senior.
Kuzewski said Hardies will have the same methodical approach to coaching, even if she’s got to start from the bottom and work her way up.
“You have to have an open mind and you do have to tailor what you do to the players you have,” Kuzewski said. “You have to start with the fundamentals and then you can add Xs and Os. I know Morgan is the right person for it. She’s got a good head on her shoulders and she’ll take it one step at a time.”
ONE STEP AT A TIME
Meegan Feil can relate all too well to the challenge facing Hardies.
In 1999, Feil took over for Marty Blackmer, who led the Huskies to that 1996 district title.
Early returns weren’t pretty. The Huskies were winless in 1999 and won one game in 2000.
But Feil stuck to her guns and planned for long term success. In her first season, she started a freshman at point guard. The next year, Atlanta’s starting five included two freshmen and a sophomore.
“Taking over a program that was rebuilding required, I had to exercise a lot of patience, set realistic and attainable goals, build trust and a buy-in to the program I was developing, and allow myself and my players the grace when things didn’t go as planned,” Feil said. “Since we were rebuilding, I took some risks and planned for long-term.”
The early lumps the Huskies took paid off. They won seven games in Feil’s third season and 13 in her fourth, including a win over second-ranked Cedarville.
I have no idea whether Hardies’ coaching career will follow a similar trajectory. There will be good nights, like when the Huskies routed Au Gres by 26 for their first win this season. Or nights like Monday, where the Huskies started fast and beat Vanderbilt by double digits.
There will be nights when they take it on the chin, like recent games against Posen and Hillman where the Huskies were held to a combined 19 points.
But that’s part of the growing process, part of building for the future. It’s about mastering the fundamentals and the concept of playing team ball. It’s about building up the youth programs to create a feeder system to varsity and putting in offseason work. It’s about instilling confidence in players that they belong on the same court as their rivals.
Hardies is the type of coach that can provide that opportunity to build something and I hope she’s successful. Hardies and her assistants have the know-how, the youth, the desire, and hopefully the patience to do everything they can to put the Huskies in a position to win.
“Unless something drastic changes in my life. I don’t plan on moving out of the area, because I still live in Hillman. So unless something drastic changes. I’m planning on staying here,” Hardies said. “I like teaching here and I’m growing…I’m bonding with the students, and so I am hoping to stay here for a while at least.”