Going into her second year as head coach of the Conifer girls basketball team, Connie Ireland looks for competitiveness and improvement from her team while working to build a winning culture in the mountains.
But a winning season still feels like a tall task away. The Lobos finished 4-19 last season and 2-11 in a loaded Jeffco league that is home to powerhouses like reigning league champion and 4A state runner-up D’Evelyn (who beat Conifer 64-4 last season).
“The good news is we only lost two seniors,” Ireland said. “But we have two seniors this year (also). The rest of them are pretty young. Last year was tough. The program as a whole has been pretty beaten up over the last several years. We’re just trying to work hard to get kids back interested in basketball again and get back to a competitive level.”
The bad news is the numbers are down, she said. Conifer is hosting tryouts on Nov. 13, and Ireland hopes for more interested girls to give basketball a shot.
Plus, there isn’t really a strong feeder program for Conifer from the elementary and middle schools, unlike other Jeffco schools that do have that luxury. It makes for an uphill battle, Ireland said.
“The Jeffco league is absolutely stacked, and we have a lot of tough challenges,” Ireland said.
Before becoming the head coach last season, Ireland was an assistant for the Lobos for four years between 2011 and 2015. After moving on to Green Mountain as an assistant for five years, she’s back home to Conifer in the captain’s chair.
Colorado Community Media sat down with Ireland to discuss the Lobos’ upcoming season. For information about the upcoming girls basketball tryouts on Nov. 13, click this link.
Colorado Community Media: Why do you think numbers are down for Conifer girls basketball this year?
Ireland: They’re doing a lot of volleyball, they’re doing a lot of softball, doing lacrosse … it’s disheartening at times. But we’ve got a good bunch of kids who are dedicated. We’re looking for more, always, to get into the gym and join us. But the few that we do have, I really have a lot of faith in. They’re hard workers, they want to get better, and that’s all we can ask as a staff.
CCM: How many girls do you have, and how many do you hope to have after the tryout on Nov. 13?
Ireland: I’m counting about a dozen that we have right now, so we may be down to having just one varsity team. I would love to see five, six, seven more show up. We’ll certainly take them. We will try to make two teams and get them some experience, get them some game time, teach them fundamentals and what the game is about. I’d love to have two teams going forward. We’ll see what happens.
CCM: What is a realistic expectation coming into a new season after a tough one?
Ireland: We’d love to see competitiveness. We’re probably going to be out-experienced with a lot of these bigger, stronger, more talented teams. But if you can give me some grit, and never quit … We’re going to focus on playing strong defense, causing turnovers, and trying to get some fast break points. Whatever we can do to try and hang tough. The biggest thing for me is trying to turn around the culture of “the program’s not very good, why do people want to come watch,” etc. to “hey, these girls have some life to them, some spark.” I’m trying to bring some pride back to the Conifer Lobos program.
CCM: Who are some leaders you’re going to lean on this season on the court?
Ireland: I’m probably going to lean heavily on Finley Johnson, who is a junior who has experience. Man, she plays her heart out whenever she’s out on the practice court or the game court. And then we’ve got a talented freshman Megan Swearengin, who has played some club ball, played in middle school … She’s got some natural talent. But we’ve got some girls who played for us last year who have really improved and come along. But I think those two and Eleanor Sikora, who is an outstanding softball player. We’re going to lean on her for her leadership and athletic skills as well.
CCM: How do you go about establishing a feeder program for the Lobos?
Ireland: I’ve got some terrific people who are helping organize and coach our middle schoolers, which really gets us excited about future years at Conifer. We’ll get them established in middle school with the fundamentals and when they get to us at the high school level, we can definitely do well with the upcoming talent. My coaching staff is made up of great people as far as being committed to turning the culture around and bringing some pride back into Conifer Lobos girls basketball.