They weren’t supposed to be very good that season.
The team’s big guns had graduated the year before. Ron Wilson, the coach who’d built the program almost from its inception, had retired. It was time, many felt, for Heritage to take its lumps.
Rick Howard then went 22-8 in his first season as Wilson’s successor, and the Lady Mountaineers haven’t stopped winning since.
The Lady Mountaineers powered away from Alcoa in the second half for a 62-49 win Tuesday night at Heritage. Afterward, Howard, ringed by his team, stood at center court and was acknowledge for claiming his 200th win in only his eighth season as coach. Groups like this year’s senior class, which claimed its 100 win with the victory, are a big reason why, Howard said.
“It’s a great feeling knowing I had that many great kids here,” he said.
Howard, a Lady Mountaineer assistant before moving to the head coach’s chair, said he felt genuine concern replacing Wilson. When Howard took the job, he was only the third coach the school had ever known.
“It’s there always in the back of your mind, but I was with him so long,” Howard said. “He taught me how to work. He said, ‘Rick, just stick to your guns and make sure you’re working hard.’ I haven’t changed that at all. The way we work, I always tell them it’ll help ’em down the road in their lifetime.”
Players like former Lady Mountaineers Becca Mims and Shanna Dowdle helped make Howard’s first season as coach a rousing success. Others, like school scoring champion Cait McMahan and current Maryland-Baltimore County guard Katie Brooks really took the program places. The McMahan/Brooks team led the program to a national ranking.
Current players like senior Morgan Thomas and junior Lauren Burnett have kept the team rolling along. Newcomers like super freshman Miranda Maples say much about the program’s future.
Heritage is 22-5 entering Friday’s regular season finale.
Strong feeder programs and a winning tradition have done much, Howard said.
“They want to be Lady Mountaineers when they grow up,” he said. “That makes a big difference. We don’t lose kids to other schools.”
The rest, Howard said, is hiring good assistants as Wilson once did with him.
“You’ve got to surround yourself with good people, and I’ve had great help from the administration,” Howard said.