Corey Baerlocher has known nothing but success since taking over the girls basketball program at Colfax after the 2002 season.
The Bulldogs were fourth in the State 1A tournament his first year and again last season – and champions the four years in-between.
However, he doesn’t take any credit for that. Colfax, which makes its debut in the State 2B tournament in Spokane on Wednesday, was the defending state champ when he arrived with state placing trophies the three years before that.
“They were good a long time before I got here,” he said. “I try to tell the kids this isn’t something we created. This is something that has been going on a long time for Colfax, the tradition, the high expectations. We talk about it, it’s a huge responsibility for a teenage girl. … They’ve responded.”
A perfect example is senior Karen King, a first-year varsity player who paid her way to watch last year’s 1A tournament in Yakima.
“(Tradition) comes from the success of the program,” she said. “I just enjoy playing basketball. I think that’s the way it is for a lot of people here. We work toward being able to play.”
Baerlocher was aware of the tradition long before he ever became part of it.
Colfax caught his attention when the Bulldogs ended Lapwai’s 84 game winning streak in boys basketball in 1990, while Baerlocher, who is from Cottonwood, Idaho, was still in high school. He started following the community even closer after his sister set him up on a blind date with another Lewis-Clark State student who was from Colfax.
Melissa Moore, whose mother teaches in Colfax, became his wife but she never pushed the Bulldogs. She didn’t have to. Baerlocher followed her relatives in The Whitman County Gazette when he taught in Mountain Home, Idaho. The reading continued when they moved to Kellogg.
Baerlocher, who had never been a head coach, jumped at the chance to replace Ross Thomas, despite no teaching openings.
His wife went to work and he spent one year as a long-term substitute and another as an aide before becoming one of four teachers for 36 K-8 students at nearby Steptoe, the oldest continually operating school district in the state.
“It’s crazy some days,” the fifth-to-eighth-grade home room teacher said. “I really miss being around (the players). I’m only around them a couple hours each day, pushing them hard. It’s hard to develop a relationship.”
He only suffered one bout of self-doubt.
“I called my old athletic director who was at Lakeside (Nine Mile Falls) and knew all about Colfax, Glenn Nelson,” Baerlocher recalled. “He said I could change, listen to the naysayers and I was going to get run out of town. Or, two, I could do what I know is right in my heart and if I got run out I would know I did things the right way.
“That’s what I did.”
It helped that there weren’t a lot of changes to be made, since Baerlocher has the same philosophy of pressure basketball that Thomas always used at St. George’s and Colfax.
“The kids bought in, that’s the big thing,” he said. “It’s all about them.”
“He’s intense,” senior Traci Hart said. “What makes him good is he finds a way to push us and get out of us what he knows what we can do. He yells, but the yelling is good.”
Baerlocher, 147-28 as a 1A coach, is often asked to pick his best team.
“I don’t know if I could,” he said. “I don’t know if I would.”
Each one is different, as is this one, if only because the Bulldogs are now in their first season as a B school.
Just because they’re used to 1A competition, the Bulldogs aren’t overconfident. Though they head into Wednesday’s 9 p.m. nightcap at the Arena against Seattle Lutheran with a 23-2 record, their first loss back in December was 50-45 at defending 2B champion LaSalle. They lost again to Lind-Ritzville, a state participant, 55-49 in the Bi-County tournament.
“Our league and then our district, are pretty tough to get through,” Baerlocher said. “Hopefully, we can represent those well that didn’t make it.”
The team is excited for a new experience, even if being at state isn’t a new experience.
“Going to Yakima was always kind of fun, being on the road together,” senior Abby Erickson said. “We’ll still get a lot of road time.”
Senior Alex Burdal added, “We’re excited to go to state; we’re still playing together. We don’t mind (Spokane) because we get to sleep in our own beds.”
And if they’re the favorites, along with LaSalle, bring it on.
“I think I put more pressure on myself than anybody did,” Baerlocher said. “If I didn’t expect to win, I’d be in the wrong spot.”