Leake looks forward to challenges

Mark Schnabel
Incoming Newton High School girls basketball coach Tavis Leake from his playing days at Sterling College.

Incoming Newton High School girls basketball coach Tavis Leake will have a tall task ahead of him, rebuilding the Railer program.

The former assistant boys coach at both Newton and Wichita Northwest starts his first head coaching tenure, taking over a team that finished 1-19, 1-11 in league play.

“I love coaching and I love working with kids,” Leake said. “I just took a year away. I just had the birth of my son. That was an awesome experience, my first child, but I took a year away and realized how much I missed it.

“I’ve been in Newton about four years now. I’ve coached boys programs and I coached in Wichita. I’m very excited to coach my own team and to build the culture that I want to have and turn things around to what Newton basketball once was.”

Leake said he comes to the job hoping to motivate his players.

“An ability to push kids past what they think where their stopping point is,” Leake said. “Then just a positive culture. I want to be a positive role model for the girls.”

Leake succeeds former Railer and Fort Hays State standout Kate Bremmerman, who stepped down as coach when she was promoted to principal at the Walton Rural Life Center.

Bremmerman took over a team that graduated almost its entire squad and fielded a team with very little varsity experience.

Leake hopes to build on the strides and experience the team gained last season.

“That’s what’s exciting for me,” Leake said. “I get to build a program from the ground up. I also get to build from last year. They were pretty excited about building the foundation that they were beginning. That’s what’s going to be fun — to watch the girls improve and watch the girls do better than last year.

“It’s going to take a lot of work in the gym and getting back that winning mindset and winning culture.”

Leake also gets a challenge taking over a team at a time when summer conditioning had to be modified because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

“The girls are awesome,” Leake said. “They are very coachable. They are still young. There’s a lot of skill development we get to teach. COVID makes it a little awkward and a little weird sometimes, but the girls are all on board. That makes it fun.”

Leake said it has been a challenge just to keep the players in condition.

“It’s been better now that we’re able to be with them in the gym more,” he said. “We’re kind of week-by-week to see where we can be.”

Leake said the players also will have to do a lot of work on their own.

“Any work they get to have with the coaching staff is a blessing, but we want to teach them things they can work on every night and every day,” he said. “That way, when they meet with us, they’re prepared to compete at a high level.”

Leake will have to prepare his squad to play in one of the tougher leagues in the state that has produced a number of NCAA Division I players in recent years.

“I’m very big on defense, and that’s something I feel like is going to be very important,” Leake said. “Just teaching them defense and having a solid offense. I feel like we need a solid game plan for each opponent that we face. That will be very important.

“Then we need to build the girls’ confidence back up. No matter how we did last year, this will be a different year.”

Like last year, the team won’t have a lot of height.

“We have to be very active on defense,” he said. “On offense, we have to be able to move so we can still get the ball in the post easily. We have to make sure we’re fundamentally sound. We want a good possession every time we touch the ball.”

Leake ideally would like to be able to pressure on defense.

“I want a team with a high IQ,” Leake said. “If there is a team we can’t pressure, we can come up with something else. If there is a team with something we can exploit offensively or defensively, we can be able to see that and take advantage of that.”

Leake said goals for the year include trying to reach at least the .500 mark and that “every girl is prepared to play and every girl enjoys their season.”