By Kurt Johnson
Photo by Ravell Call (DeseretNews.com)
When we sat down to select our Preps Utah 2014-2015 high school coaches of the year, we had a lot of options to consider. Today, after evaluating as much information as we had at our disposal, we announce the girls team coach of the year.
When you take into account repeat champions in girls soccer and volleyball, and a soccer team that knocked off a previously unbeaten opponent in the state title game, our choice was already difficult after just the fall season. Then, three girls basketball teams posted perfect records on their way to state championships in the 1A, 3A and 4A classifications, and there were so many other great coaches who did amazing things.
While our award criteria does not necessarily look beyond the current season, it also does not preclude us from doing so. As we looked at some pretty impressive long-term results, one name just kept coming up, so after all of those deliberations, we have selected Desert Hills girls golf coach Laurie Dyer as the Preps Utah 2014-2015 girls team coach of the year.
Only Golf Coach
Dyer is the only girls golf coach Desert Hills has ever had, as she has been coaching the Thunder since 2009, the year the school first competed in girls golf as a UHSAA event. Over the course of those seven years, Dyer and Desert Hills have enjoyed amazing success. The Thunder did not win a state title that first year, but they have done so every season since.
When Desert Hills finished six strokes ahead of Park City over two days at Bloomington Country Club to win the 2015 Class 3A championship, it was No. 6 in a row. The Thunder have seen a number of talented players come through the program through those seven years, but team golf has pitfalls to be overcome and no one has done that better than the softball coach-turned golf coach, Dyer.
“I coached softball because I played softball,” Dyer said. “I’m just a girl who loves golf and there was a need for a golf coach and it all worked out.”
The 2015 season added a new piece to the championship puzzle, a new two-day format for the girls state tournaments.
“It (two-day vs. one-day tournament) was way more stressful. Can I just say that?” Dyer said. “I was good after Day 1, but we’ve never done a two-day event, so it was a first-ever for us. It was really stressful on us, it was stressful on the girls. The four scores that counted the first day weren’t the same four scores as the second day.
“It’s just hard to know where you are until the end. I’m only talking to my girls, I don’t know until scores are posted how we’re doing. I just know how my girls are going about their rounds and how they’re performing.”
Coaching a sport that is so much based in individual success is an interesting challenge, and Dyer talked about the need to help her players understand their responsibility to the team and its goals.
“Initially when the girls come in, they are not used to that team aspect,” Dyer said. “It takes us a while to build team rapport and help them understand that sometimes when things aren’t going well, when you’re just playing an individual tournament, you’re just kind of ‘I’m out of it.’ They understand that every stroke counts when you’re in a team sport.
“Even if you just want to say I’m done for this day, you can’t do that. Knowing that your team depends on you and that they might need that score makes them mentally tougher and makes them work harder and just stay in the game. If you have a bad hole, they understand they can come back from that. It’s not the end of the round, which is something they learn over time. When you’re young and playing poorly, you just want to step out of it. If you’re on the team, you don’t have that luxury.”
Then, there’s the aspect of coaching that is similar to any sport – understanding that each player has individual needs.
“All the girls are different,” Dyer said. “Some of the girls want to know how everybody’s doing and some of the girls don’t want to know. They just want to focus on their own game. I get to know them and what they need when they’re on the course. Some girls want me to come up and give them a hug and say ‘It’s okay, let’s play a couple of holes together.’ and others are just ‘Step back. I’ll handle this. I’ll figure it out myself.’ They’re all totally different characters.”
“We work to develop team players who support each other,” Dyer said. “They can win and still not have done their personal best. They’re really tougher on themselves than I could ever be. With the success of the high school team, we’re like a family. They all work really hard to contribute because they don’t want to let each other down.
“The girls graduate and go off to college, and I still communicate with many of the girls. We become really close and we’re like a family and doing what’s best for our team and they understand the decisions I make are what’s best for the team and they’ll support that. They are all best friends off the course.”
The last four years have been paced by the dominant play of three-time individual state champion Katie Perkins, who finished second in the state her freshman season. Perkins has been working with a swing coach since she was five years old, but her relationship with her high school coaches is special in its own way.
“I’ve always been really close with my high school coaches,” Perkins said. “They’ve been awesome to me and really taken the mental aspect of my game and helped me out. They’re really encouraging. I know that our coaches play a huge role in our team this year and all four of my years.”
Dyer is always excited to coach players like Perkins, who come to Desert Hills having played competitive golf for years, but she also enjoys working with players for whom that is not the case.
“I have one girl on my team that had never golfed before,” Dyer said. “She had never played nine holes. She came out as a freshman and said ‘I want to golf. I’ve started golf lessons.’ Quite frankly, I’ve never cut anybody off the team. If someone is interested in playing girls golf, I encourage it, so the squad changes in size every year because I have people like Katie and people who’ve never, ever played.
“It doesn’t change the team dynamic. The person who’s never played golf is just as involved and participates in all the team activities as the girl who’s played since she was six years old. I think they just love the idea of being part of a team, even though it’s an individual sport. Even though she knows she’s not contributing (a score) she’s out there participating and I’m sure she’ll be out there all summer improving her game.”
Six straight titles, and six in seven years is an impressive run. That success makes Dyer our girls team coach of the year. Perkins talks about how things have always just worked out for the Thunder.
“I just think the girls that come through have years of experience and we all have grown so close to each other,” Perkins said. “We realize the talent we’ve had and we’ve been able to have six state championships and all the girls have just such a passion for the game and it all comes together when it needs to.”