For the first time in a half-decade, Maddy Hornecker isn’t the head coach of the Evergreen girls basketball team. After the two-time state title-winning coach pivoted into the athletic director role this past year, a familiar face is in as the new head honcho, and he’s excited to take over at the school he played for in the early 1990s.
Christopher “Cub” Buenning is entering his first year as head coach, but he’s no stranger to the team. On top of having two daughters playing for him this year, Buenning has been an assistant for the JV and third-level team for a few years, and has helped coach several of the girls over the years as they’ve grown up. He’s also the middle school principal at Evergreen Country Day School.
After a tough 8-15 season last year, Buenning is excited about turning it around in 2023. The team did go 6-5 in a loaded Jeffco league, but the Cougars feel far from their back-to-back state championship glory from 2017 and 2018.
“I am the eternal optimist, and a lot of it has to do with the girls in the program,” Buenning, a 1992 Evergreen grad, said. “Again, having known these girls, most of them for quite a while … Just building that culture of what high school sports should be about. Yeah, I want to win league. I want to win state. But I want girls to look back in five to 10 years and be like, ‘High school basketball was so fun.’”
The Cougars’ last winning season was a shortened 10-5 year during the pandemic. Since, it’s been a little turbulent on the court. But reinforcements are coming. The varsity team is loaded with future college athletes, Buenning said.
Many of the girls are dominant in other sports, meaning their experience and tenacity will help build a tough, cohesive group of players that can lean on each other and their talents.
“I got athletes. I got girls that care about each other, play together, share the ball,” Buenning said. “I will not have a star this year. I will have a group of girls who care about each other, who care about having fun. I’m optimistic that we’ll finish higher in the league, that our overall record will be better.”
But the Cougars will look significantly different than last year. Losing four-year starting point guard Bella Reece and 1,000-point scorer Jameson Mott to graduation hurts, meaning this year’s team will have to be more reliant on a total team effort, Buenning said.
“I’m expecting a different star every night,” Buenning said.
Voluntary open-gym runs have been happening all summer, and tryouts and practices begin next week. Buenning said he expects to have around 30 girls total this season, which is perfect for varsity, JV and third-level teams. He understands many schools don’t have that luxury and he’s determined to take advantage of the talent in the program.
For more from Buenning and his expectations for his team, check out the Q&A below.
Canyon Courier: Describe the style of this Cougars team you’re expecting to see this season.
Buenning: You’ll see a little bit more of an up-tempo team as opposed to more of a ball-controlled offense. We will be a very tough defensive rebounding team that looks to then turn missed shots and turnovers into easy baskets. There’s a lot of talk in the state about implementing a shot clock. I don’t think our team is going to have any issues with that. We’ll be up-tempo and be looking to take that early open shot.
CC: Who are two or three names on the team you’ll rely on heavily as leaders this season?
Buenning: There are a few. I have three seniors who were varsity players last year. I have a fourth senior who is kind of new to the program and she’s kind of working her way in as well. But Mary Cox, Gretchen Lynch and Tatum Buenning, those are my three senior returning starters. Mary was all-conference last year. Tatum is a track athlete who will be running at the next level. Mary and Gretchen will both be playing soccer at the next level. But they’re great girls. Great leaders. There’s a really good culture right now from those girls as leaders that I’ll be leaning on heavily.
CC: Do you and Maddy Hornecker talk about the team and program often? How do you all differ as coaches?
Buenning: I think I’m a different person in a lot of ways. I have the utmost respect for Maddy. She’s great. She’s one of my eldest daughter’s mentors. She’s an amazing person and an amazing educator. My perspective is maybe a little more process than result. I’m going to be a little more OK with turnovers that have happened in the past. But I’m still really close with Maddy. She was Tatum’s club coach all throughout middle school. She’s helped with my younger daughter who is a freshman in the program. I still talk to her pretty much every day, but it’s more logistically at this point of the year to get things ready for the season.
CC: What are some tangible goals and expectations in year one?
Buenning: I want to win the league. I want to be a Jeffco League champion. I want to do that this year. While I know we have some pretty big mountains with that, the team I think is the best in the league that we coached again last year was Littleton, and we beat Littleton last year. That was kind of our signature win last year. (I actually did the PA for the game last year, so I was kind of an assistant coach on the scorer’s table). But a tangible goal from the beginning is to win the league. As we move forward as a program … I drive by that state championship sign from 2017 and 2018. I talk about the banners in the rafters. Those big-picture goals are important. My personal goal is that the girls love playing basketball, and they love the team, and they love going to practice and spending time together.