Head Coach for Sandpoint Bulldogs Girls Basketball, 2023 Idaho State Champions
By Jillian Chandler | Photos by Jason Duchow Photography
William Love grew up in Sandpoint and graduated from Sandpoint High School (SHS). He played basketball, which has always been his favorite sport, for the Bulldogs, though he recalls he “was not very good.” He spent several years working as a journalist before moving back to Sandpoint in 2009 to take the journalism teaching position at SHS.
A year after he started teaching, Will joined Tyler Haynes’ staff as a JV basketball coach for the boys. He had spent four years as an assistant when Duane Ward, who had taken over as the girls head coach, asked him to be his assistant. Will was hesitant but Duane persistent, and Will eventually agreed to join him. “It was one of the best decisions I’ve made,” he shares.
Will took over as head coach five years ago, and for the first time in Sandpoint High School history, he led his team to win the state championship in February.
Q. The Bulldogs Girls Basketball Team won the 4A Idaho State Championship—the first to do so in school history. What does that mean to you as a coach and to your team?
A. This has been a barrier that hopefully we’ve punched a hole through for future SHS girls’ and boys’ teams. Winning the school’s first basketball title was something we talked about regularly with our players, so it was definitely emotional after the game and then when we returned to Sandpoint with the police escort. So many people were involved in making this happen, we made it a point to play for them and our community in the championship game.
Q. Sandpoint competed at state for the ninth time in 10 years. What do you believe has given this year's team that extra edge to win?
A. So many things have to go right to win a state title. We were battling injuries and other things at the end of the season, but based on the way we were competing with different lineups against some good teams, we knew this team had a chance to win a state title.
The main reason was that we could score. We averaged nearly 57 points per game this season compared to 36 points per game last year. With Kelsey Cessna, Daylee Driggs, Karlie Banks and Aliya Strock, we essentially had four players average double figures in scoring this season, so we knew this team could compete with the state’s best teams on both ends of the floor.
Q. When it comes to the 2022-2023 girls’ basketball season, what are you most proud of when it comes to your players?
A. It was a great group to coach, with some strong leadership from the players. They took ownership of a lot of things on and off the court and really pushed each other since last summer to achieve their goal of winning a state title.
The girls dedicated all this time to basketball—we started the season on October 31 and returned from state on February 19—but they still got it done in the classroom. The varsity team finished with a 3.4 GPA for the first semester and not one girl was below 3.0. The success in the classroom coupled with a state title is something to be proud of!
Q. What is your coaching philosophy?
A. First, I will say my philosophy is always evolving. I’ve grown a lot over the past five seasons as a head coach and still know I have a lot to learn. I started a podcast a few years ago, and I’ve been fortunate enough to learn from great coaches across the globe who have helped shape what we do on and off the court.
Essentially, we run a conceptual system that relies on the players to make most of the decisions on the court. For the most part, nothing is set, especially within the flow of the game. A lot of people say kids don’t play pick-up basketball anymore, but we kind of organize our practices and player development through a pick-up style environment that emphasizes decision-making through a constraint-led approach in a lot of small-sided games.
The beauty of the state championship game is that the coaching staff hardly made any calls during the game. The girls made almost all of the decisions on the court based on concepts we implemented during the season and the scouting report we gave them on Shelley.
Q. What expectations do you have of the players on your team, and what can they expect from you as a coach?
A. A couple of expectations we have for the players is that they are competitive and take pride in what we do as a program. Sandpoint Girls Basketball has had a lot of success over the past decade. Except for one season when Lakeland went, we are the only school from the 4A Inland Empire League to qualify for state in the last 10 years, and we’ve played in five state semifinal games during that time. A lot of people, especially former players, put in a lot of time and hard work to build that success, and we always want to honor them by working hard to keep the success going.
As my wife Debbie can tell you, rarely a day goes by where I’m not spending at least an hour or two doing something related to basketball coaching. So the players can expect with everything we do, I’ve spent a lot of time researching and talking to fellow coaches about it. They can also expect a lot of bad dad jokes.
Q. What do you believe is key to being a great basketball coach?
A. Having a great coaching and support staff around you. I’m lucky to work with some great assistant coaches in Madi Schoening, Joe Fata and Audra Driggs. I value their input when it comes to on-court and off-court matters, and I’m so appreciative of the hard work they’ve put in to make this happen. Our administration and secretaries have been instrumental in all of this too.
It really takes a village. The program couldn’t have had this level of success without all of the support we receive—especially from the parents.
Q. What makes a great basketball player? Individually and as a team?
A. The girls’ game is being played at such a high level these days, especially at the higher classifications, that players need to have a combination of skill and athleticism. Thanks to several opportunities available in our community, including Sandpoint Furniture, the girls entering SHS are more skilled than we’ve ever seen and have played a lot of basketball. Also, Coach (George) Yarno does a tremendous job with building faster and stronger athletes in his female strength and conditioning class.
With that being said, decision-making plays such an important role in success on the court that we treat that as skill right up there with shooting, passing and dribbling. This year’s team did a great job with their decision-making. This led to a selflessness from the players that allowed them to gel as a team especially during regionals and state.
Q. What life lessons do you hope are learned on the court that these girls can use off the court when it comes to other aspects of their lives?
A. Somebody highly involved in the high school game emailed me recently this thought, “Youth sports are not successful if our student athletes are not walking off the floor with life lessons of greater significance than the game itself.” I agree. There are so many lessons from sports that apply to life that it’s hard to list them all. For this group, as they get older, hopefully, they will reflect back on this experience and remember what they can accomplish from hard work and a belief in themselves and their teammates.
Q. Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
A. We really appreciate all of the support from everybody and the opportunity to represent our school and community at this level. Thank you!