A WINNING STRATEGY – La Conner High girls’ basketball coach Scott Novak made several points during a Lady Braves’ timeout in regional playoff action with Columbia Burbank at Mount Vernon last February. His players were listening as evidenced by an easy double-digit victory that propelled La Conner to a program best second place finish at the 2B Hardwood Classic in Spokane the following week. Novak is the 2020 Skagit Valley Herald Coach of the Year. – Photo by Bill Reynolds
How fitting that a coach as focused as La Conner High’s Scott Novak would receive a major award in 2020.
Because in hindsight one can easily see how the Skagit Valley Herald named Novak as its Coach of the Year.
Already a member of the Washington State Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame, Novak – known for his detailed advance scouting and precise game plans – guided La Conner to a 23-3 record last season, including a program best runner-up finish at the Girls’ 2B Hardwood Classic in March.
While at the 12-team Spokane tournament, La Conner avenged prior tough losses to Tri-Cities Prep and Wahkiakum on its way to a first-ever state final round appearance opposite Liberty Spangle.
For his part, Novak told the Weekly News that fans need look no further than La Conner’s talented and versatile roster to get a clear picture of why the team enjoyed such a successful 2019-20 campaign.
“Like I’ve told a couple other people who’ve asked,” Novak explained, “it’s easy to get these kinds of awards when you have such a committed group of players to coach.”
The players that Novak and Lady Braves assistants Loran James, Jesse Edwards and Lynette Cram coached meshed smoothly as interchangeable parts, each complementing one another and allowing La Conner to hit on all cylinders throughout the season.
Justine Benson, the Lady Braves’ all-time scoring leader, fueled the La Conner attack. She scored nearly 17 points per game en route to being selected as the NW2B Most Valuable Player and was named to the 2B All-State team.
Benson, subject of an April 8 Weekly News feature article, was chosen this spring as the Herald’s Girls’ Basketball Player of the Year.
“Justine had an impact for us from the get-go,” Novak stressed during a Weekly News interview at the time, “but the important thing is not only did she improve every year, but the team got better, too.”
Five other Lady Braves garnered post-season honors.
Sarah Cook, Morgan Herrera and Juna Swanson were NW2B first unit selections. Rachel Cram and Ellie Marble were second team All-League choices.
All but Herrera, a University of Washington track-and-field commit, will return for the Lady Braves next year.
Benson, a Bellevue College volleyball signee, joined Novak in citing strong team chemistry as a key factor in the Lady Braves’ finals appearance.
Novak and La Conner had high expectations entering the season. Those were realized as the Lady Braves reeled off 20 wins in their first 22 games, suffering setbacks only to state 1A qualifier King’s and Wahkiakum.
The loss to King’s in a game in which La Conner held an early lead was one of two defining moments for the La Conner team. Novak said it served as a rallying point as the Lady Braves entered the stretch run of their season.
“We had a good discussion about it the next day,” he recalled. “When you don’t lose much, one loss can seem like a lot more than it really is.”
La Conner rebounded the next week with a big non-conference win at Annie Wright, whose star player Julianna Walker consistently ranks among the nation’s top scorers in the girls’ high school ranks.
“And then,” Novak added, “Annie Wright turned around and beat King’s. So that said a lot.”
It also said a lot when La Conner edged 1A power Lynden Christian 19-13 in a brief neutral court jamboree pairing to tip off the year.
“Even though it was only a 10-minute game,” said Novak, “it confirmed our belief that we were going to have an outstanding season.”
Novak, who teaches driver’s ed in addition to his classroom and coaching assignments, told Herald sportswriter Trevor Pyle that the 2019-20 La Conner High season was akin to a trouble-free road trip.
“The whole journey is a lot of fun,” Novak said. “There will be difficult parts. There are bumps in the road. But this year the journey was fun.”