Beech High School didn’t waste much time in filling its vacancy for the girls basketball head coach.
It didn’t have to look very far either as athletic director Kristi Utley accepted the position on Thursday.
“I’m excited,” Utley said. “Any time I commit to something, there’s only one way I know how to do it, and that’s the best way I know how to do it.”
Utley succeeds Kari Douglas, who stepped down on Monday to focus on spending more time with her family.
Douglas missed the 2015-16 season while on maternity leave, and the Lady Buccaneers finished 11-21 under interim head coach Troy Carnes. Carnes, who accepted the head-coaching position at Davidson Academy, led Beech to the Region 5-AAA Tournament after victories against third-seeded Hendersonville and second-seeded Mt. Juliet en route to a runner-up finish in the District 9-AAA Tournament.
Beech suffered a 48-40 loss to visiting Clarksville in the Region 5-AAA quarterfinals to end its season.
With Utley being familiar with the players in the program, the move means minimal transition for players as summer activities draw closer.
“I just felt like, right now, I had the time that I could commit to something like girls basketball,” Utley said.
Utley, a 1988 graduate of Beech, played at the University of Kentucky from 1988-89 through the 1991-92 season, helping the 1989-90 squad win the Women’s National Invitational Tournament (NIT) championship. Utley is 10th all time in Lady Wildcat history for 3-pointers made in a career (110) and shot nearly 40 percent from behind the arc, tops in Kentucky history for players with a minimum of 200 attempts. She is also seventh in made free throws (318) and ninth in free-throw percentage (78 percent), and she led the team in scoring in 1988-89 as a freshman with 12.9 points per game.
Utley served as the assistant basketball and head softball for two years when she returned to Beech for the 1995-96 school year, but she gave up the basketball position after her second season.
“I was coaching both (basketball and softball), and it just wasn’t the right time,” Utley said.
Utley coached softball through the 2003-04 season, leading the team to Class AAA state championships in 1997, 2001 and 2004 and runner-up finishes in 1998 and 1999. Utley returned to the softball program midway through the 2011 season, along with David Woods and Wayne Smith, and coached the Lady Buccaneers to the state championship that year as well.
Now, she’s ready to get back on the bench at her alma mater.
“I feel fine with the time commitment, but it’s just going to take getting used to it,” Utley said. “I’m probably a lot more comfortable coaching basketball, believe it or not, than I was coaching softball.”
The Lady Bucs graduated three seniors – two-time All-County Player of the Year Deja Smith, Lauren Crowley and Lexi Cook.
Rising seniors McCall Decker and Joslyn Brinkley, rising juniors Reese Taylor and Savannah Jarratt, and rising sophomore Kendra Mueller all gained considerable experience last season.
“I’m just excited to get in there,” Utley said. “I’m aware of what we have coming back, because I went to quite a few of the games last year. I’m just ready to get in there and see where we are and see what kind of improvements the girls need to make and what the team as a whole needs to do.”
Reach Chris Brooks at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 615-575-7118. Follow him on Twitter @CB_SumnerSports.