By Andy Krutsinger, Mt. Pleasant News
There is a new name at the helm for the Mt. Pleasant girls? basketball team this year. Curt Watson, a familiar Henry County coach, is gearing up for his first season as head coach of the team.
Watson has plenty of years of experience in the coach?s chair, but this season will be his first as the head coach of a varsity girls? team.
Watson started coaching in 1994 at Chariton Middle School. He coached both seventh and eighth grade boys? basketball and eventually moved up to freshmen and junior varsity before moving to Mt. Pleasant in 2005.
He started coaching at New London, where he spent one year as the junior varsity coach before moving up to varsity for eight years.
After a year off, Watson began coaching junior varsity girls at Mt. Pleasant, and was promoted to varsity head coach with the departure of two-year coach Nicholas Maynard.
Watson, who will be the fourth head girls? basketball coach in the last five years, says the transition to varsity coach has been made easier by the coaching staff that surrounds him.
?Luckily, I have a really good staff,? he said in an interview earlier this week. ?Coach (Jonathan) Bohle moved up with me, he was freshman coach when I started here at JV, so we really work well together. Coach (Sarah) Hager?s second year here (and) she did an awesome job last year, (and) Coach (Heidi) Huckabone had coached freshmen for a number of years.?
The Mt. Pleasant girls went 13-10 last season and 4-4 in the Southeast Conference for a third-place finish. The Panthers have been chasing Fairfield and Keokuk for the last couple years, but with a big group of seniors graduating for the top teams last season, the SEC is anybody?s to grab.
Watson says his coaching style largely depends on the talent he has, and that his group this season will be more of a fast-break, up-and-down the court team than in previous years.
?We?re going to try and play a little more up-tempo,? Watson says. ?We don?t have a lot of size, but we have a lot of quickness (and) we have a lot of guards that can shoot the ball.?
Only two players return from the starting lineup last year, but both are coming off all-conference caliber seasons. Junior guard Maddie Williamson scored a team-high 11.5 points per game. Senior guard Kalynn Batey scored 10.5 points per game and led the team with 60 assists.
?This year we just have a more guard-oriented team, so we?re going to run a little more,? Watson says. ?We?ve got two all-conference players back, so pretty good start right there.?
The beginning of the Panthers? schedule is one of the toughest around this season, much like in the previous two years. Mt. Pleasant starts off with two road games, against Durant on Saturday, Nov. 18, and Pella on Tuesday, Nov. 21. Mt. Pleasant hosts defending SEC champion Fairfield on Tuesday, Dec. 1, and play at Keokuk one week later.
The group of players coming through the system have had a lot of success at the lower levels, and the talent pool is up there with the best in the conference. Coach Watson says the team has lofty goals this season and in the future.
?It?s probably everybody?s goal, but we would really like to try to win conference this year,? Watson says. ?I think we really have a chance at it.?
Watson says he would like to see the team end up at the state tournament at some time, and that the girls? team would like to follow in the footsteps of another Panther squad.
?The boys? program has such a great tradition here and eventually, that?s what we are striving to do,? Watson says. ?To get like the boys? program, so Mt. Pleasant has two great basketball teams.?