Initially apprehensive about coaching girls basketball for the first time, Alex Hutchins ended up cherishing his experience guiding the Hays High girls' team this past season. 

Under Hutchins, the Indians turned in a solid campaign and will be set to return a promising group next season. 

That’s what made Hutchins torn about pursuing another opportunity at Hays High when the Indians’ head boys basketball coaching position recently opened.  

 “I would say I’m more comfortable coaching boys, but the group of girls that I had and the experience that I had with them this year made it awful hard to make that decision (to seek the boys' job) when the time came,” Hutchins said. “But I just felt like, long term, finding a fit that I felt like I would stay with for many years into the future, the boys made the most sense.”

Hutchins ultimately decided to apply for the job and was introduced to the boys' team as its new coach on Tuesday.

“We interviewed four very, very good candidates,” Hays High athletic director Lance Krannawitter said. “It was a difficult decision. All the candidates had lots of experience — at the college level and at the high school level. In the end, after weighing everything involving not only being a good coach, but also being a good teacher currently in the district, we felt that coach Hutchins was the best fit for our program and for our district."

Hutchins, a Scott City native who previously coached boys basketball in Elizabeth, Colo., Minneapolis and was an assistant' boys coach Scott City, led the Indians to a 14-8 record and sub-state final appearance in his lone season with the girls' team.

“It was an incredible year,” Hutchins said. “I was very apprehensive going into the season, stepping out of the comfort zone and coaching girls for the first time. … It was a ton of fun, and they are going to be successful.

“I’m hoping that whoever the school ends up deciding on to lead that program can take them even further than I did, because they’re a great group and they deserve to have that success. I’m going to continue to coach them up in the weight room and track and I’ll be the biggest supporter.”

Hutchins, also an assistant coach in football and track and field, will replace Rick Keltner, who resigned after 34 seasons as Hays High boys basketball coach, amassing a 453-291 record with the Indians.

“There’s always going to be pressure with any program where there’s been past success,” Hutchins said. “I feel there is expectations with this job that there won’t be with other jobs, and I think that’s a huge compliment to coach Keltner and everything he’s been able to accomplish.

“With any job, you hope that there’s expectations and you want people to expect success and you want people who will be willing to work for it. I think one of the biggest compliments to coach Keltner and compliments to the program in general is how many kids there are in Hays that just love the game of basketball. … That’s what makes you excited to go to work every day.

“I’m going to do everything I can to try and build on what coach Keltner has established and try to be a leader of men, and not just basketball players. He’s an incredible man, incredible human being.”

The Indians went 9-12 last season with a young team.

“I’d like to think that knowing them and knowing some of their abilities will help us, but at the same time, it’s hard to tell sometimes until you get on the court and try to teach some things and run through some things,” Hutchins said.

Size could be an advantage for the Indians, with next season’s returners set to include Dylan Ruder (6-foot-8), Trey Adams (6-foot-7) and Dalyn Schwarz (6-foot-3).

“Compared to a lot of teams that I’ve been around, we’ve got a lot of size,” Hutchins said. “When you’ve got Dylan Ruder and Trey Adams and even more length behind those guys, you try to formulate some ideas offensively and defensively that can take advantage of some of that height.

“At the same time, there is very good guard play. The freshman and sophomore classes have a lot of guards, and so I really do think it’s a balanced group. There’s a lot of different ways that I think they could play. … The possibilities are definitely exciting.”

Hutchins said the Indians’ first priority will be defense.

“Baskets and points put people in the stands, but defense is going to be the mainstay," he said. There’s going to be nights when your shot’s not falling or things just aren’t clicking like they need to be. A lot of defense is intelligence and effort so if we can establish that, I think that puts us in a position to be successful on any given night.

Hutchins said his team looked eager to get started when he met with them Tuesday.

“The boys were really receptive and it seemed like there was a lot of excitement,” he said.

Krannawitter said the search for the next Hays High girls basketball coach will begin immediately.