Mandy Morales finished her Lady Griz basketball career as the fourth-highest scorer in Big Sky Conference history and second at Montana to the legendary Shannon (Cate) Schweyen.
Now she’s trying to pass her knowledge on to a new generation of players.
After a year of pro ball in Greece following graduation, the Billings West and Lady Griz guard (2005-09) joined the girls’ basketball coaching staff of the Missoula Sentinel Spartans. The two-time Big Sky MVP now heads the junior varsity team.
The Missoulian caught up with Morales recently to chat Lady Spartans, Lady Griz and everything in between.
Q. So first off, tell me how you got into coaching?
A. Well after my basketball playing career ended – I just had injuries upon injuries – and I just decided, maybe I want to stay in basketball, go the coaching route. It’s been awesome. I’m in my fifth year now underneath (14-year Sentinel coach) Karen (Deden).
Q. She’d be a good one to learn from. She’s had a pretty successful career already.
A. I’ve learned so much and I swear I’m just learning stuff every day and every year. Sometimes I think that I’m ready but then I just keep learning and learning from Karen, having so much experience before.
Q. Did you know Karen before? How did you end up at Sentinel?
A. It’s kind of funny. We always joke about it because I actually played against her when I was in high school. Obviously she was coaching against me, I think maybe the state tournament my junior year. We were at CMR (in Great Falls) and she still thinks that I put her player in a chokehold, she says. I always tell her, “Let’s bring out the film; I want to see it.”
When she knew I came back from Greece, she had a freshman (team coaching) job opening at that time. So I said, “All right, I’ll take it.”
Q. And if I remember, that was a pretty successful freshman first season.
A. Yeah it was. I had the Liz Harper group (who were seniors on last year’s State AA champion team) and it was tremendous. We went 19-0. Such an athletic group and it was our first year. It made me like, “Wow, this is coaching?”
Q. They made it seem almost easy.
A. Right? I really liked it from that first year I had there. Interacting with the girls, trying to teach them what I know and see them grow off of it.
Q. You mention Liz Harper (Sentinel class of 2013). There’s another couple really good players on this year’s varsity roster as well. What do you think of Division I signees Maddie Keast and Olivia Roberts?
A. Oh yeah, they’re phenomenal. Sometimes I get in practice and play against them a few times. But they’re still growing; they haven’t reached that potential yet. Getting to that college level is going to be a little bit different for them, but I know they’ll adapt and be fine.
Q. Do you catch a lot of Lady Griz games being back in town?
A. I do. I try to hit most of them that I can, but sometimes I’m coaching underneath Sentinel. Sometimes our practices and games land on their game days. I try and hit them as much as I can, but honestly it’s kind of hard to watch. You want to be in there (laughs).
Q. How long do you think (36-year coach) Robin Selvig will be coaching the Lady Griz?
A. Oh man, I don’t know. I thought that he was going to be done a few years ago, but he just keeps on going, getting those wins up there. He’s a phenomenal coach and with the history that he has here, I think he’ll keep going until he has a big one (laughs).
Q. So what comes next for you?
A. I think that maybe someday I’ll try the coaching college route but right now I’m just pleased where I am. I thank God every day that (Deden) accepted me into this program. … Then maybe doing some one-on-one lessons, which I first started with (future Lady Griz) Maddie Keast when she was at Loyola, just helping her with her shot a little. I really do like doing those one-on-one sessions and seeing players grow. Hopefully, I want to start my own academy one of these days, but that’s in the future.