It’s a new dawn for the Leavenworth High girls’ basketball program.
After being part of five state playoff teams, Jordan Mellott left the program in June to become the assistant coach at Har-Ber High School’s girls’ program in Arkansas.
Mellott oversaw a Class 5A state title team, a runners-up team and a third-place team from 2015-2017 while he assisted another state title team in 2014.
Enter Derek Bissett.
Bissett has coached in Kansas before – working at Colby and Nemaha Central – while also doing some work in Sheridan, Wyoming, and most recently, Auburn, Nebraska.
He has won more than 300 games and seen six of his teams qualify for state tournaments. Three of those teams played for a state title.
His 2007 girls team in Colby won a state title while his 2011 edition in Sheridan was second. In 2003, he led the Colby boys to a state runner-up finish as well.
Last season at Auburn, Bissett’s squad finished 20-5.
It appears that the LVHS girls have themselves another winner to take them onward and upward.
“We’re still trying to get to know each other,” Bissett said. “They are a great group of kids and I am still learning some things with them. They’ve had good success and I don’t want to come in and change everything. We want to continue to do the same things that brought success and tweak some things. It’s like from year to year where you have to tweak things when you have different players with different strengths.”
The team loses two top seniors in Terrion Moore and Zoie Hayward from last year’s team. The team has said that as of this summer, returning senior Aarika Lister may not play in order to focus on track. Lister was not reached for comment.
“It’s a new team of course and a new coach, but everything is going OK so far,” junior Alyche Brown said earlier in the summer. “We are still getting used to each other. We lost Terrion and Zoie, but we still have most of the same people, so we should be OK.
“We can’t depend on two players anymore and we have to do it as a team. Last year, we depended on certain players to finish the job for us sometimes. We have new players coming in and we have to teach them all over again on how to trap, defend and work on our offense. Once we get it down, we should be OK.”
Junior post McKenzie Brown has had more expectations heaped upon her after her strong finish to the previous campaign.
“I’m up for it and I am going to give it all I’ve got this summer,” she said. “I am just going to try and step up more and have more of a captain role – even though I am not a captain. We are pretty young so I will have to step up a lot and push everybody.
“We are all learning new stuff and I think we’re getting along pretty well. We are just going one practice at a time. We have to lock down on defense and we have to do a lot more ball movement to get people open and find open shots. It’s about doing a lot of the little things.”
Bissett hopes to keep some of Mellott’s assistants in the fold.
“You want to have continuity, because that’s important to kids,” Bissett said. “That helps them to feel comfortable as much as anything. We have quality individuals with the coaching staff and the players and a good system in play. We just want to get the kids to play hard.”
“It’s very important, because if everything was new it would be very different for us and it would be hard getting used to new things,” Alyche Brown said. “So, I am glad some have stayed.”
Bissett is not afraid of walking into a program with a sterling, recent run of excellence and is glad to do so.
“The greatest thing you can have as a coach is a program that has expectations where the community, the kids and the school want to have success,” Bissett said. “It’s hard to build tradition. When you have tradition, the kids understand it’s not always about them, but the program and continued success. They want the kids that came before them – now that they have grown up – to respect them and continue that legacy.
“I have been at a couple of different programs that had good success so I know how to deal with that coming in. It’s just that so much of it is what a community’s expectations are. In some communities, kids grow up playing basketball and in other communities they do something else. This is a basketball community that wants to have success and we want to build on that legacy.”