Highly successful and former Sparks High boys basketball coach Dick Lee is in his first year coaching at Division IV Virginia City. He brought his Muckers into the Rail City for a league game at Excel Christian, a first-year Division IV school with a new campus in east Sparks.
Virginia City captured the 61-31 triumph victory, pulling away in the second half after leading just 22-16 at the half.
Lee is working to rejuvenate a perennial small school state power while Excel Christian is just looking to build a program. To the surprise of few, Lee is doing a stellar job this winter, guiding Virginia City to a 14-5 record and a 6-0 start in league play. The Muckers are all alone atop the Division IV West standings.
"It's been fun," Lee said of taking the VC job. "They wanted to re-energize basketball into the community. I do a little teaching and more coaching. The community has been great. The kids are super. There was a transition period. I don't think the kids trusted the coaches or themselves, but now it's spreading and we're getting better."
There was a transition period for Lee as well. The veteran hoops coach won 4A state tournament games and a 3A state title, so adjusting to the Division IV, formerly 1A, was going to take some time.
"You just don't have the number of athletes and shooters that you do in the 4A or even 3A," Lee said. "Basketball is not as important to these kids. It's more seasonal, but the expectations are still high. We have the ability in the 1A to defend pretty well. This is seven straight games we've held an opponent under 45 points and three of those were 35 or less."
Another big change for Lee is the amount of time it takes to get to games. At Sparks, during Lee's 4A tenure, the long trip was 45 minutes down to Douglas. When he returned for a second tenure, when Sparks was a 3A member, the Railroaders had one long trip, out to Spring Creek. Now at VC, the league schedule consists of trips to Austin, Carlin, Eureka, Owyhee, McDermitt, Coleville and Jackpot among others.
"It's been fun being back as a head coach but the travel is tougher here," Lee said. "It's been a little bit of a culture change. The kids weren't used to practicing on Saturdays and lifting weights in the season, but it's paying off."
While Lee is trying to maximize the talent on his roster in hopes of making a deep playoff run and maybe even winning a state title, Excel Christian is just trying to lay a strong foundation for a basketball program. The Warriors are 2-7 overall, but still winless at 0-6 in conference clashes. Still, according to first-year coach Kyle Swanson, there is plenty to be excited about for the new Sparks school.
"This is great. You inherit a team to work with and then we've just improved so much," Swanson said.
Excel Christian played an independent varsity schedule in 2007-08. That year it got drilled by Virginia City 88-8. The Warriors then played a JV schedule for a few years before playing an independent varsity schedule last winter in preparation for this year's varsity season of Division IV and full NIAA membership.
"We're getting better," Swanson said. "We're competing with people."
Swanson said Saturday night's atmosphere in his school's small gym at the former Sparks YMCA building was a special one. He hope that becomes a staple as his Warriors program forges new ground and becomes more competitive, snaring more and more wins along the way.
"I hope this continues," he said. "This is probably the most people we've had in here. There was a lot of excitement. We had fans cheering. They helped us out. I hope they keep coming out and we'll keep getting better."