When Lubbock High campus athletic coordinator Jason Strunk set out to find a new girls basketball coach, he wanted to find someone similar to himself knowing the job that person had ahead of them.
He’s confident he found that person in Nikki Heath.
Heath, who was a part the Texas Tech women’s basketball team that won four Southwest Conference championships and the 1993 national championship, was named the new girls basketball coach at Lubbock High on Monday.
“I’ve kept an eye on the kids in that area and the teams, so I’ve seen how much better they’ve gotten as a program,” Heath said. “There’s a lot of potential there. From my perspective it’s a chance to build on something positive there.
“They’re hungry for success. They’re hungry for a chance to get to the next level. They’re not very far off at all.”
Heath takes over a program that had some mid-season upheaval when coach Brad Blalock resigned in late January, citing that it was in his and the program’s best interest after compiling a 27-84 record in three-plus seasons, including a 5-13 start in 2013-14 and 0-6 mark in District 4-4A.
Assistant Kenzie Kinard finished out the rest of the season as the interim head coach.
More importantly, the Lady Westerners have no track record of success, having never been to the playoffs in school history. It is somewhat a similar situation that Strunk found himself in when he took over the football program three years ago, and he feels he found a coach in Heath that has a similar drive and passion as him.
“Within the past two weeks I’ve talked to Nikki a lot and come to realize that our personalities are pretty similar,” Strunk said. “She’s kind of a no-nonsense, straight-to-the-point person who coaches hard and at the end of the day when it’s over is in that locker room loving those kids and doing what needs to be done to build those relationships off the court. That’s something we’ve done here in football and in every sport we have here.”
Strunk said Heath emerged as the top pick from a pool of 20-30 resumes submitted for the job that were whittled down to eight finalists for interviews. Her official start date has yet to be determined.
Heath comes to Lubbock High after stints at Carrollton Creekview (2012-2014), Irving Nimitz (2009-2012), Brownwood (2006-2009) and Sterling City (2001-2006), compiling a record of 335-129. She also was a volleyball and assistant basketball coach at Frenship from 1996-2001.
This past season, Creekview finished 11-15 overall and 6-8 in District 10-4A, one game out of a tie for fourth place. The year before Creekview finished 14-17 and 7-6 in district, making the playoffs as the fourth-place team in her first season at the school.
Her most successful stint was at Sterling City, where she took a program she said hadn’t been in the postseason in a few years and took them to the playoffs each of her five years there, including spots in the regional finals three years straight from 2005 through 2007. She added her time in Brownwood was much the same way.
It all comes down, she said, to fundamentals.
“(Lubbock High) has some kids who actually have talent and ability,” Heath said. “It’s just a matter of one, pulling it all out of them, and two, being fundamentally sound. If you’re not fundamentally sound I don’t care how athletic you are, you’re not going to be a great team. Just getting better at that, alone, will help you become better as a team and as individuals. It’s just a matter of getting over that hump.”
So how long before the Lady Westerners can get over that hump in a new district that will include Abilene Cooper, Lubbock Cooper, Plainview and San Angelo Lake View?
“I think within two years we can be in the playoffs,” Heath said. “I say that, within two years we can get to the playoffs but I’d like to be there sooner. I’m excited because I think we can come in and change the whole program, completely.”
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