PEARCY -- In his sixth year at the helm of the Lady Wolves basketball program, Lake Hamilton head coach Blake Condley was not always a girls' coach, but he has found a way to turn groups of girls into a basketball-playing family.
Condley has worked to focus his teams on relationships, and those relationships helped a struggling Lady Wolves team go from a 0-4 start to a strong finish. Condley is The Sentinel-Record's 2019 Winter Sports Girls Coach of the Year, and he was named as one of the 2019 All-Star Girls Basketball Coaches.
He started his career at Hector at the helm of both boys and girls junior high teams before taking over the senior boys program. He then moved to Bryant to be closer to family.
"I've been a part of both for a while," he explained. "We wanted to get in the middle between my family, which lived in Hector, and my wife's family is from here. My wife graduated from Lake Hamilton, and we had a lot of friends who lived in the Little Rock area. The position that was there was the head junior girls position there at Bryant."
He eventually moved up to coaching the senior girls for five years before he and his wife decided to move to Lake Hamilton.
"This was where we wanted to raise our kids," he said.
After losing several starters from last year, Condley knew this year would likely have a rough start, but he did not schedule any easy games to start the season.
Even the benefit game that the Class 5A Lady Wolves played against the Class 3A Two Rivers Lady Gators was a battle.
"We played OK, but Two Rivers, I feel like, was a pretty good team," Condley said of the team's start. "Then we lost our three games in the Classic. Officially 0-3, competitors 0-4 because you're still keeping score in that benefit game."
The Lady Wolves then went on a 10-1 run, which included the opening of 5A South conference play before finishing 18-8. Despite the rough start, Condley kept his team from putting their heads down.
As the season progressed, it became clear to Condley and fans that the team was more in sync with each other than at the Lake Hamilton Classic in November.
"As we got towards the end of the season, they talked about the attention that we put on relationships between our classic and when we went to Branson," Condley said. "The girls said, when we went to Branson, that's when it kind of started to click. But we did a lot of things as a team. We did a lot of things that didn't have a lot to do with basketball; they were just about building relationships.
"We had a new group. We had handfuls of girls that had played together, and they all knew each other. But in terms of that specific group of girls trying to work together in practice and in games, it was totally new. It doesn't take much in terms of personalities to make things different. You can just remove one or two girls, and it's totally different. You can just add in one or two girls, and it's totally different."
Condley said that building relationships among the members of the team is key to being able to play well together.
"Early on, when there wasn't a relationship, no one wants to talk much," he said. "I wanted to put them in situations that show they're not that different from each other. I'm a believer in building teams that way."
Once the Lady Wolves went on their three-game win streak in Branson, they built rapport with each other and gained confidence, which they carried over into the start of conference play. They opened the new year with a 55-47 conference win over Sheridan before downing Lakeside and J.A. Fair.
Then came the Hot Springs game.
Both Hot Springs and Lake Hamilton were undefeated in conference at the end of the third week of the new year, and this was the first time that the two teams played each other in a situation that meant something beyond bragging rights at the end of the season.
With the game tied at 30-30 at the end of 32 minutes of play, the buckets seemed to close on the Lady Wolves' shots, and Hot Springs held on for a 38-32 win.
"A lot of things went into that game," Condley said. "Just playing it at Hot Springs makes it different. You'd think it would be the same as at the arena, but the atmosphere is different. It was one of the first times the girls were in that intense of a situation. It's a good rivalry game."
Condley admits that it might have been a bit more tense with senior Nya Moody coming back home to Lake Hamilton after several years at Hot Springs.
"I think there just were nerves with everybody, the players, going into it because she still had good relationships with all of her friends there," he said. "And she had great relationships with everyone here. I just think it was kind of unknown going into it. That was kind of tough."
The El Dorado game also came down to the wire at Wolf Arena, but the Lady Wildcats came out with the 50-49 win.
The Lady Wolves turned things around again, winning eight in a row before falling to Benton, 40-38, in the final game of the regular season.
Unfortunately for Lake Hamilton, the team's draw in the Class 5A state tournament pitted them against a team of virtual Goliaths. The Lady Wolves went up against the Paragould Lady Rams, a team whose entire roster appeared to be over six-feet.
"I thought that was a tough matchup because of their size could be seen as our weakness," Condley said. "We had two girls that I think did a fabulous job doing post defense this year but have never really been posts -- ever. But just because they were the biggest girls we had, with Nya and Tia (Mullenix), they end up having to guard. I thought defensively, we did a really good job. It just came down to we didn't score enough. I feel like that game was a very physical game, which was to their benefit."
Condley said that he was proud to see the way the team came together.
"You look at any one of them, you're not sure what you're going to get, but then they really developed," he said. "I think the chemistry and the relationships and how they were all able to play together, not just the ones on the court, but the ones that were on the bench that pushed in practice every day and battled every day. That's the message that you talk to them about, but you wonder if they really believe that. I think that's why the girls that were actually on the floor were able to develop and to get so much better because we had girls pushing them and working them in practice."Sports on 04/21/2019
Print Headline: Relationships key to Condley's success on floor