Benton Head Coach Q&A / Mary Ward
Continuing our attempt to highlight OUR coaches in Louisiana we caught up Coach Ward from Benton. Coach Ward has coached one of the top teams in the state the past two years playing in the 4A and winning the 5A state championship last year. She's coaches hard and her teams follow her style by playing a tough/physical version of basketball. Below is our Q&A:
Your team had another successful season 20+ wins and finished state champions. For those that don’t know your team played in the 4A state championship game last year before moving to the 5A classification this year. What were some challenges your team faced along the way moving up a classification?
The 4A state champion last year, Warren Easton was one of best teams in the state regardless of the classification. I think both 4A and 5A are competitive. We always try and play the best teams early in the season before our district starts. This has really helped up these past few seasons. One of the challenges we faced this year was being the new team in a huge district with 14 district games. We start district play so early in the season it is hard sometime to keep the girls focused on each and every game.
How did coming up a little short in the 2018-19 season (State Runner-Up) motivate your team for the 2019-20 season and how will you work to carry that momentum into next year?
The feeling of getting so close and coming up short really had an impact on our team. It hurts so bad to come in second place. The girls really believed that this was our year. We peaked at the right time of our season and started playing out best basketball the last month. Winning a state championship definitely is such an amazing and exciting experience. This excitement has fueled our girls to practice hard to get better and try to get back to the state tournament again.
Defending state champs, your team has been recognized as one of the top teams in the 5A classification. What do you feel are the reasons for your team's success?
I believe the reason for our team’s success is the leadership from the girls and the girls buying into our team concept. I believe that my daughter who graduated in 2019 really made an impact on our program. She had a great work ethic and was a great teammate to all. She started it and has since passed the torch to Qua Chambers who will pass the torch to Jada Anderson. When I say leadership – I mean it in every way. Our team the last five years have really been special. The girls get along with each other and are not jealous of who gets the credit. This is one of the main keys to our success. We stress the importance of being great at your role. We don’t need everyone to score 20 points a game. We need a player who will constantly take charges, defend the opponent’s best player, be the leading rebounder, etc…
What led you to choose teaching and coaching as your profession? Who are some mentors that have help you become the coach you are today?
I actually started out working for SportsCare which was a company that was contracted out through hospitals to do marketing. Then I worked for Gatorade and absolutely loved it! When Gatorade got bought out by Pepsico they did away with my work division and my daily job task changed.
I got into teaching and coaching in 2003. I was pregnant with my son at the time and figured this profession would be better suited for my family. I started teaching and went back to school to get my certification. My main mentor has been my high school coach, Richard Cox. He is just the absolute BEST. Coach Cox has actually been coaching with me for the past four years. We constantly are drawing plays on paper and thinking of things to improve on or add. I also think a key to success is to surround yourself with people who are positive, have different strengths than you, and to continue to learn. If I see a style of play that I like or a defensive set that I like, I ask the coach what they do to be successful and I listen and learn from them.
Do you have any advice to a younger coach in terms of what makes a good coach?
My advice to a young coach is to remember it is not the quantity of your practice it is the quality of your practice. If you are going intense, hard, game speed during practice you don’t have to practice for long. Also, be sure to practice the skills used in your style of game and focus on the basic fundamentals.
I ask this question to all the coaches I interview. What do you feel are some ways that Louisiana can improve the girls basketball moving forward? What do you feel really works and made you glad to be a coach in Louisiana?
I think Louisiana can improve girls basketball by focusing on opportunities at the younger levels. I also think it is important to promote our athletes. Louisiana has tons of talent when it comes to girls basketball. I am glad that I coach in Louisiana. Louisiana is my home.
What would you like to see implemented to assist young girls develop prior to high school? What are things middle school kids need to know or should be working on to prepare for the high school level?
I think if we want to grow girls basketball in Louisiana there needs to be more opportunities to play at a younger age. During middle school we should make sure the kids are working on fundamentals and also making sure it is fun. Having