Southwood’s newest coaches bring plenty of experience and optimism to two unique rebuilding efforts.
Basketball coach Stephen Harshaw sees a strong young foundation nearly ready to take over for the defending co-District 1-5A champs after the departure of several key seniors. In baseball, Aaron Vorachek said the entire culture needs to change for the Cowboys to snap a streak of three straight last-place finishes in one of the state’s most competitive districts.
“The perception of Southwood, I think, is a wrong perception until you get in there,” Vorachek said in a phone interview Thursday. “To me, when I walk the halls at Southwood, it’s almost like walking the halls at Caddo Magnet. It feels more academic than athletic.”
The former Bossier Parish Community College coach praised the school’s bio-tech program and the work ethic of its students, including his baseball players, but he wants it to be seen as a place more top athletes want to attend. Transfers or kids from the area who decide to go elsewhere consistently hurt the football and baseball teams, and Harshaw said even basketball was affected when guard Jaylon Payne left to play his senior season at Woodlawn.
But the Cowboys also welcomed a couple players from Woodlawn and a sophomore from Loyola to join Yancey Kelley and Johnny Hines, the only significant contributors returning from last year’s team. Harshaw acknowledged that youth and inexperience could create some challenges, especially against a tough non-district schedule.
“We have a very, very talented sophomore group already,” Harshaw said. “I know we have a very, very talented freshman group. This year will be some ups and downs, but the future is incredibly bright.”
He arrived in Shreveport just before the 2015-16 school year ended as an assistant when he left a successful high school girls head coach position in Arkansas to join the woman he’ll marry this weekend, an orthopedic surgeon at Shriners Hospital for Children. Harshaw knew he’d have a shot at the head coaching job when Picou left to pursue a career in education, but it came as a surprise when that opportunity arose in August, rather than two or three years later as both men anticipated.
Harshaw plans to run a similar system to his predecessor with an emphasis on discipline and hard-nosed man-to-man defense, although he might have to back off the full-court press with less quickness this season. Expectations won’t change after seven playoff appearances in nine years and Harshaw wants his players to spend more time in the weight room.
Vorachek expressed similar sentiments, emphasizing he plans to build the toughest, most mentally prepared team in the district. Those efforts will be aided by strong support from the administration, and Vorachek noted the team’s batting cages, locker room and outfield wall represent major upgrades from what he had at BPCC.
Although he coached the high-school aged MVP Muddogs in summer 2005 and the Louisiana All-Star Under 16 team this past summer, this will be Vorachek’s first job coaching a high school team after 19 years at the college or professional level. But he expects to benefit greatly from the experience of his assistants, former Doyline coach Jay Hearne and BPCC pitching coach Thad Markray.
Both of Southwood’s new coaches spoke of helping players advance to the next level, with Harshaw noting he could soon be sending four or five in each class. Vorachek wants to use his vast connections to help not only his players, but talented prospects throughout the area, much like his friend Byron Dawson does for football recruits as the coach at Evangel.
“There’s a handful of kids in the area that deserve a chance,” Vorachek said. “A lot of time, parents don’t know where to start.”