When Kyle Porter took over the Royal Valley girls basketball team before the 2017-18 season, the first-time head coach did a deep examination of every aspect of the program, looking to pinpoint the areas that had been holding the Panthers back.
What followed was a wildly successful two-year run that culminated in a Class 3A state championship for Royal Valley this past season.
Now, Porter will look to use a similar blueprint to instill the same values and principles in the Hays High girls basketball program after he was named head coach of the Indians this week.
Porter said family ties to the area — his wife, Crista (Bechard), played basketball at Fort Hays State — and the reputation of the school and city helped persuade him to pursue the opportunity at Hays High.
“Every time I’ve been in Hays and what I’ve heard about Hays, I feel like it’s a basketball town,” he said. “They really support their athletics and they’ve got great kids and great people.
“My wife and I, when we were looking at places to try and establish roots and opportunities … it was kind of a circumstance I couldn’t pass up.”
The position became open when Alex Hutchins was hired as boys basketball coach at Hays High after one year leading the girls team.
Royal Valley had endured seven straight losing seasons before Porter, a Holton native and Washburn University graduate, was named head coach after four years as an assistant in the program.
“When I took the job at Royal Valley there hadn’t been a ton of success, so I just kind of did an audit of the program to try and figure out the reasons we weren’t successful, because we’ve had good players," he said. "I think in Royal Valley’s history they’ve had great players but not always great teams.”
Porter helped change that, guiding Royal Valley to a 3A runner-up finish in his first season as head coach. The Panthers then claimed their first state championship in program history this past season, pulling out a 55-52 overtime win over Cheney in the final.
Porter said the Panthers relied on a mantra he called “gold habits” — commitment, compassion, competition, mindfulness and joy.
“When looking at the gold habits, they were an antidote to (the issues) I saw,” Porter said. “What we found is that if you approach each day with that mentality and try to embody those values. If you do them every day and make them a habit, the outcome takes care of itself. If you look at what we’ve done at Royal Valley the last two years, I really think that’s permeated through our program and led us to be successful.”
Porter has already done heavy research on the Hays High girls team, which will lose current seniors Savannah Schneider, Jaycee Dale, Mattie Hutchison and Kallie Leiker off last year’s 14-8 team.
“It’s going to be tough to replace those type of kids,” Porter said. “But I do think they have a core nucleus of about three juniors that will be seniors that can help steer the program and continue to take in the right direction.”
Those seniors-to-be are Brooke Denning, Tasiah Nunnery and Isabel Robben.
“I think Brooke Denning’s a pretty nice shooter; she’s a lefty and she’s got a pretty nice stroke,” he said. “Tasiah Nunnery just looks like an athlete. I know she does track and she’s a pretty nice volleyball player as well. With an athlete like her on the team it allows you some versatility to do some different things. Isabel Robben, she kind of seems like a gritty kid, a tough kid that’s going to battle.”
Porter said that while the Indians’ style of play will always depend on the strengths of his players, there’s aspects of the game he wants his team to be able control.
“For me there’s three principles that allow you win to basketball games on a consistent basis,” Porter said. “The first one is to run the floor. We want to get easy baskets in transition. We want to prevent easy baskets on defensive transitions. We’re going to look to play through the paint and get paint touches. We want to attack the paint, whether it be post-up if we have a nice post player, or through dribble penetration. Lastly, we want to defend and rebound.”
Porter said he will meet in person with the team next Friday.
“I think that first meeting is about them getting to know a little about me, me getting to know about them and to start to develop those relationships with the kids,” Porter said. “Players make plays, players win games and as a coach your job is to guide and help mentor these kids and get them into positions to be successful. You can’t do that without understanding the kids, where they come from and what they can do. That’s going to be my first step.”