Coaches votes can be a fickle thing.

One year after Sunbright head coach Rusty Yaden was snubbed as District 3-A’s coach of the year in a vote of his peers, the former Oneida coach won the honor last week. One year after Oneida head coach Marv West won the award in a bit of a surprise, he finished second — presumably, at least — in the balloting to Yaden last week.

Not that Yaden didn’t deserve the award. His Lady Tigers finished second in the District 3-A standings and split with Oneida — were the only team in the district to beat the Lady Indians, in fact. His team will be very much in contention for the district tournament championship, and even if they don’t win it, it has been an impressive run. His Lady Tigers won 25 regular season games — equalling last season’s tally as the most in program history. 

But Yaden probably deserved it more last year. His Sunbright team had won 25 games, lost just five, and won the district regular season championship. 

West, whose 2017-2018 Lady Indians finished third in the district, was the first to say that the award should’ve gone to Yaden. He would say that this year, too. But, truthfully, it would’ve been hard to have argued had West won the award. His Lady Indians didn’t just win the regular season district championship; they did it in convincing fashion. At one point, Oneida won 17 consecutive games. The Lady Indians were 19-1 in their final 20 games of the regular season.

But, ultimately, coach of the year honors don’t mean a whole lot. Coaches would much rather win championships. On February 19, District 3 will crown a tournament champion, and that will be more important than a coach of the year honor. A week after that, Region 2-A will crown a tournament champion, and that will be more important still. 

It’s something of a tradition for coaches of the year and players of the year to be selected from the team that wins the regular season district championship, but coaches are hardly bound by that tradition — and it’s a loose tradition, anyway. Case in point: Midway’s Caitlyn Ross last week became the first District 3-A player in the modern era to win player of the year in three consecutive seasons . . . and her Lady Green Wave team didn’t win the district championship in any of those seasons.

Ross was the easy pick for coaches. She is the undisputed leader on her team, which is one of the top teams in the district; good enough to play in the district championship game last year and good enough to potentially get back there again this year. By contrast, the two teams ahead of Midway in the standings — Oneida and Sunbright — are more balanced, though it would certainly have been easy to argue that the Lady Tigers’ Makenna Brown should’ve been player of the year. 

The Lady Indians may have won the regular season district championship, but picking a player of the year from Oneida would’ve been difficult; a strong case could’ve been made for any one of three players to win the award. Juniors Jayden Thomas and Kendyl West, and sophomore Katelyn Stiltner, have all had seasons worthy of player of the year honors — but each has relied on the other, and the rest of their team. That’s a testament to Oneida’s style, and West’s coaching. The Lady Indians have used team play to carry them to a 23-5 record and a regular season district championship, without having one player really stand out more than the rest. 

Player of the year honors probably mean more to their recipients than coach of the year honors, but ultimately the same thing holds true: team achievements are far more important than individual honors. If Oneida is hoisting a district championship trophy next week, and especially if the Lady Indians are able to play their way into the state tournament, that would mean far more than a player of the year award.

On the boys’ side, tradition held this year: Harriman’s Shay Shannon was named coach of the year and Jaylen McCullum was named player of the year after the Blue Devils won the regular season district championship. It’s hard to argue against either; after all, Harriman was the top team in the district.

But it would have also been easy to make a case that Oneida’s Jacob King should’ve been coach of the year. The Indians’ turnaround under his guidance has been impressive. After finishing sixth in the district in Year 1 of the King era, Oneida surged to No. 2 in the district this year. The Indians enter postseason play as the district’s hottest team, and will advance to the region tournament for the first time in six years despite still being a relatively young team. 

Oakdale’s Travis Nelson could have also had an argument for coach of the year; after all, Harriman didn’t beat him. The Eagles were the only District 3-A team to defeat Harriman this year, and they did it twice.

It’s understandable that Fulton’s Edward Lacey was named the player of the year in District 4-AA. The Falcons were the district’s top team. But it’s arguable that Scott High freshman Trey Morrow had a strong case for the award.

Yes, Morrow’s just a freshman; coaches are always going to be reluctant to give the award to a freshman. And, yes, the Highlanders finished fifth in the district; coaches are always going to be reluctant to give the award to a player from the last-place team.

But those facts actually make Morrow’s 2018-2019 campaign even more impressive. He led District 4-AA — which includes perhaps the top two teams in the state in Fulton and Austin-East — in scoring and rebounding, averaging 19 points and 11 rebounds a a game . . . as a freshman! 

It’s hard, perhaps impossible, to say when a player in District 4-AA led the league in scoring as a freshman, or when a District 4-AA freshman averaged a double-double in the course of an entire season. 

As it was, Morrow was named the district’s newcomer of the year, a bit of a conciliatory honor — but he barely made all-district. 

Fulton, Austin-East and Alcoa each had three players on the all-district team. Scott and Kingston had just one each — even though the Highlanders handed the top-ranked Roadrunners one of just three losses this season. Seniors Bryson Russ and Kadon Babb, and junior Logan Goodman, did receive honorable mention, but only one player on the all-district team was a bit of a slap to the face for Scott High — and a sign of the continued lack of respect for Scott High that has manifested itself in both football and basketball. 

That’s especially true when you consider that Morrow, who helped the Highlanders to that win over A-E with a last-second, half-court shot, was just one vote away from being honorable mention. Think about that: a player leads the league in scoring and rebounding, as a freshman, and almost doesn’t even make the all-district team.

Some would shrug and say respect given is respect earned. But if Morrow’s play in his debut season wasn’t enough to earn the respect of District 4-AA’s coaches, you can’t help wondering what he would have to do to earn that respect. 

Yes, coaches votes can be fickle.

From the Pressbox is a weekly sports column by Independent Herald editor Ben Garrett. Contact him at bgarrett@ihoneida.com.