West Creek High School hired Aaron Keener to take over as head coach of its girls basketball team in July 2020. The program had gone 3-66 in its last three seasons.

Suffice to say there was a lot for the new coach to work on when he stepped into the gym for his first practice at the helm.

“I really like to avoid that thought (of the first practice),” Keener said with a laugh. “It was difficult for me. Patience, patience, patience. The girls, I think they had all the desire to want to play, we were just so deficient in our skill set. We didn’t know what effort looked like. Most importantly, we had to re-define what team really meant. That was a struggle initially for the entire team, including myself.”

The Lady Coyotes took 14 straight losses to start the 2020-21 season, but they eventually won two — yes, two — games in a four-day span in February 2021, nearly matching their win total from the past three seasons combined before Keener took over.

They started this current season with losses in five straight games. But on Tuesday, they won again, this time a 52-41 victory over Kenwood. Spanning back to last season, the Lady Coyotes are 3-7 in their last ten games after getting the same amount of wins in its 71 games prior.

“It’s big,” Keener said. “It’s a confidence booster. We had some tough teams initially this season, and rightfully so. We wanted to see some tough teams so that we can understand that we have a huge mountain to climb.

“The girls stayed with it. They came back, they asked the hard questions. They stayed in. Now, we’ve figured out that things are not going to go easy, they’re not going to go our way. We just have to stay the course. Trust each other, go back to what we’re training and what we know how to do.”

They scored 19 points in the second quarter of Tuesday’s win. In the season before Keener took over, they scored 19 points in an entire game just 11 times. In their first game of that season, they lost to Gallatin 78-5. They were hardly a team, let alone a basketball team.

Today, the West Creek Lady Coyotes are a basketball team.

“As a team, I feel like we’re more together compared to last year,” said senior Amarachi Chukwuemeka. “Personally, I talk more. I feel like I have a relationship with the whole team, more than I did last year.

“Within myself I might not have that much confidence, but sometimes they help me have confidence because they believe in me when I don’t.”

The Lady Coyotes want to win — they always have — but they had no foundation. They also lacked grit, toughness and, above all else, a significant identity and skillset as a group. Because of that, whenever they faced adversity, the team wilted and rolled over without hesitation.

That’s not the case anymore. On Tuesday, they trailed Kenwood early. The Lady Knights even made a comeback attempt in the fourth quarter, but the Lady Coyotes held on to secure the win. That simply was not in their DNA previously.

“One of the biggest things I’ve witnessed is their willingness to commit to a concept,” Keener said. “First of all, starting with the work ethic. Getting in the gym, getting in some type of condition so we can get up and down the court. Not only just try to play, but defend the ball, share the ball. When things don’t go our way, keep our head up.

“Watching the young ladies grow into somebody who understands ‘this is bigger than I. A team. And there’s sacrifices at all levels to do that.’ To witness them adopt that concept, come back day-in and day-out when things are really going poorly, to keep their head up.”

Don’t get it twisted — the Lady Coyotes still have a mountain and then some to climb. They won’t be contending for a state title, let alone a district title, this season. But compared to where they were to where they are now, they look the part of champions.

“Everyone expects us to be down here,” Chukwuemeka said with her palm to the floor.

“I want everyone to be shocked when we’re up here.”

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