KENT CITY – Super intense basketball coaches get all the attention.
You know, those famous high-stress coaches like Tom Izzo and Bobby Knight, known for pacing up and down in front of the bench, screaming at players and ranting at referees like the world is about to end.
There are coaches like that in the high school ranks, as well, but Aleah Holcomb is definitely not one of them.
The Kent City girls basketball coach appears to be under complete control at all times, no matter how big the game or close the score.
She sits quietly through most of the games. smiling and clapping when her team does something good, and occasionally shouting out instructions to a player without leaving her seat.
There are lot of fans, let alone other coaches, who make more noise and draw more attention to themselves than Holcomb.
Yet here she is, about to lead her undefeated team into a state championship game in her first year as a varsity coach. Kent City easily dispatched Madison Heights Bishop Foley 47-30 on Thursday at Michigan State University’s Breslin Center, earning a spot in Saturday’s 4 p.m. Division 3 state championship game against Ypsilanti Arbor Prep.
MuskegonSports.com will be on hand at the Breslin to provide full coverage of the title game.
The Eagles were in the state championship game a year ago under former Coach Scott Carlson, and there are probably some people who believe Holcomb didn’t have to do much this season, because Carlson left her a great team.
That doesn’t tell the whole story.
It’s true that Holcomb did inherit a lot of good players, but the Eagles also lost their two biggest stars from last season – Kenzie Bowers and Jenna Harrison – to graduation. Holcomb had to take the remaining pieces and fit them together, and it’s resulted in a 26-0 record and a spot in the state finals.
Holcomb also had to take over and steer the team on very short notice, because Coach Carlson left to take a job as an assistant coach at Western Michigan University in the fall, and she was named head coach only two weeks before the first game this season.
But as the junior varsity coach at the time, Holcomb had been working with the varsity girls all summer and fall, and was completely prepared to step in and guide the ship at the last minute.
While a lot of people were surprised to see Kent City do so well this year and get back to the finals without Kenzie Bowers, Harrison or Coach Carlson, Holcomb was not one of them. She said she knew her team had the talent to have another great season.
“I did know we were good enough to get back here,” Holcomb said. “I think we were a little bit underestimated this year because we lost two great basketball players, but I knew how smart these girls are, and how talented defensively they are.”
Holcomb. 26, definitely has a lot of experience with the Kent City girls basketball program.
She played for the Eagles in high school and was on several very good teams, including one that reached the regional finals in her junior year in 2013.
She was the junior varsity coach for the past five seasons, helped with the varsity at the same time, and played a role in developing a lot of the girls who are currently on the roster.
While she did not expect to be the varsity coach this season, and had very little notice before starting the job, she said she was completely prepared and comfortable with the situation.
“Scott got a great offer to coach college ball, I was kind of next in line,” she said. “I knew the program, the players and the parents, so it kind of fit.”
The most noticeable thing about Holcomb is how much you don’t notice her.
She stays in her seat on the bench most of the time, and if she ever yells at anyone, it’s not detectable from the bleachers. She’s just as calm and quiet during close, nerve-wracking games, like the one-point victory over Schoolcraft in the state quarterfinals, as she was on Thursday, when her team controlled the game against Bishop Foley.
Some people may think Holcomb is not really coaching, but she says she does most of her coaching in practice where it counts, and realizes there’s little she can do during the games to make a big difference.
After all, it’s the kids who are out there playing, not the coaches.
“We work really hard in practice, and we make sure the girls are fully prepared before they step on to the floor,” Holcomb said. “I can make small adjustments, but in the reality of a game, I’m not going to make any of them better ball-handlers or change the ref’s opinion about a foul call. I do the best I can during practice and trust them during the games.
“We definitely make mistakes during games, and I know we’re better than that and it bothers me, but I now there’s nothing I can do at that moment. We take it, move forward, learn from it, then talk about it later in the locker room.”
Holcomb’s players appreciate her style, and her devotion to them.
“Aleah is a lot different from Scott – she is pretty quiet but it works really well for us, clearly,” said Kent City senior Taryn Preston. “But the way that she coaches is also very positive. We know where she is coming from when she gets on us, and we know she is so proud of us, no mater what. I absolutely love Aleah, and I can’t imagine playing for anyone else my senior year.
“She’s been by my side since I was in middle school. I know I can go to her for absolutely anything. She always has our best interests in mind when she coaches. She is a lot different than Scott, but I wouldn’t trade her for the world.”
The state championship game will pit two teams that looked very impressive during Thursday’s semifinals.
Ypsilanti Arbor Prep, 24-2, defeated Maple City Glen Lake 57-44. Arbor Prep came into the Final Four ranked No. 1 in the state in the most recent Michigan Associated Press poll.
Kent City is ranked second in the state.
“I am definitely excited,” Holcomb said. “Arbor Prep is a great team, but we will work hard and play our game and hopefully walk away with a victory.”
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