TRENTON — One of the area’s most-successful high school girls’ basketball programs of the past five years will have to try to extend that success with new leadership next school year.
Brian Upton, who led Southwest Livingston’s Lady Wildcats to the first three district/regional championships and state-tournament appearances in the school’s girls’ hoops history since taking the helm in the 2007-08 season, last week was approved by the Trenton R-9 School District’s Board of Education as the new head coach of Trenton High School’s basketball Lady Bulldogs.
“This was a very difficult decision to make with lots of issues to consider,” Upton shared with the C-T during the weekend after finally getting a chance to speak directly with Southwest Livingston’s would-be 2012-13 returning players.
“I wasn’t considering leaving, but Trenton (officials) contacted me to gauge my interest level and arrange an interview and facility tour. They presented me with a great opportunity and, after much thought and consultation of family and friends, I decided to become a candidate for the position and was fortunate enough to be selected.”
The 47-year-old Independence, Mo., native told the C-T he and wife Karen and their family will not be moving, meaning son Cole, a sophomore currently, will continue to attend the Ludlow school where he was a starter in basketball this past season and projects to be among its key players next season.
When Upton took the Southwest Livingston High head coaching job after five years of coaching there on the junior-high level, it was as a group of girls – including daughter Lauren – he’d coached to success were entering high school.
There, joining with several talented and athletic girls in the grade ahead of them, the tandem of players and coach sent the Lady Wildcats soaring to new heights.
In only Upton’s second year at the helm, they not only captured a district championship, but won their first-round game in the Class 1 state tournament before coming up a bit short of a trip to Columbia for the semifinals and finals in a tight battle with *** at Maryville.
For the team’s performance and his guidance of it, he was selected by the Missouri Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association’s northwest district membership as the district’s Class 1 girls’ coach of the year, as well as the KMZU Radio coach of the year for 2009-10.
With virtually the entire squad due back the next season and much of it the next two years and with some additional younger talent coming up to supplement it, the thought was another opportunity to get to Mizzou Arena would present itself, but a pair of first-round state losses and a defeat in the district finals in 2010-11 thwarted that.
Still, when the 5-year span of Upton’s tenure at the helm is totaled, the numbers are impressive: A 114-22 overall record, with the first three girls’ basketball district or regional crowns in school history, three regular-season Carroll-Livingston Activities Association (CLAA) championships (two shared) and three CLAA Tournament titles in four tries, and three Braymer Invitational tournament crowns in four attempts.
The 1983 Fort Osage High School (Independence) and 1987 Missouri Western State College (now University) graduate, who will remain as a coach on a non-faculty member basis at Trenton, as he was at Southwest Livingston, believes the Trenton program he takes the reins of can enjoy even more success than it has in recent times.
The Lady Bulldogs have had several fine teams in the past half-dozen years or so and generally have been very competitive each season. However, they’ve not been able to break out into an upper-echelon or elite team, a situation Upton’s history suggests he may be able to remedy.
“Trenton has a great core of returning players that is used to winning and wants to succeed,” he says, looking ahead to his new coaching task. “I am looking forward to getting to know them and hopefully we can learn from each other and continue in their winning ways and push for new heights.”
At the same time, he’ll keep an interested eye on the fortunes of SLHS’ Lady Wildcats.
Despite the graduation of a handful of players from this past season’s team, including several who spent time in the nucleus of the team’s extraordinary success of the past five seasons, Southwest Livingston is due to return all-district forward Sydnee Rounkles, a former CLAA Tournament most valuable player, and promising guard Maritza Chavez, who played extensively as the team’s sixth or seventh girl on the 2011-12 district title winners. During the past season, Upton had stated he was looking forward to working with some talented current junior-high players who’d be joining the high school program in the next year or two.