It was 11:30 at night and balls were still being bounced in the Triton High School gymnasium. The Cobras’ home girls basketball game had ended more than two hours earlier.
Simultaneously, second-year Triton girls basketball coach Melissa Young was finally ready to call it a night as the clock inched toward midnight. As she closed her office door at Triton High School, a good distance away from the gymnasium, she suddenly became aware of those bouncing balls.
She was perplexed at first. But that lasted all of about five seconds. What hit her next and has stayed with her ever since has been elation.
Just like that, Young had become aware that she really had something. There was a pack of Triton girls in that gym who she now knew had melded into basketball junkies, just like herself. Those late-night bounces said it all.
"There were 10-to-12 players still in the gym, shooting around," Young said. "It was 11:30 at night. When you start seeing things like that happening, you know your program is turning around."
At Triton High School, it has been an eternity since the Cobras have fielded a competitive girls basketball team. The high-water mark the last 13 years happened in 2007-08, when Triton finished 7-19.
One season ago — Young’s first with the program — produced a 6-22 record. And that felt like progress.
Turns out it was. Things have taken off from there and thanks in good part to the 40-something Young, the most experienced, knowledgeable and driven coach this program has likely ever had.
The Cobras are currently 7-7, doing it behind Young and a flock of promising and basketball-loving young players
"(Young) has taught us a lot," said Triton junior point guard Sydney Gilliland, who’s developed into a record-setter under Young, recently breaking the school mark with 12 assists in a game. "It helps having a new coach who is very experienced, with such a strong history. She’s taught me so many different aspects of the game."
BEEN AROUND THE BLOCK
Not just experienced, but with so many varied basketball experiences. The Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop graduate was one of its best players ever. She went from starring there to playing one season at Concordia (Moorhead), and then three at Gustavus before playing professionally for one year in Germany.
From there, it was on to becoming a coach. Starting at the age of 22, Young has been here, there and everywhere. That includes spending two seasons as a University of Minnesota women’s basketball assistant (under Cheryl Littlejohn, then Brenda Frese), and also with stops at Winona State and Bethany Lutheran as an assistant. At the high school level, she’s been a head coach at Anoka, Nicollet, Hastings and St. Croix Lutheran.
Many of those high school stops were one-year, fill-in jobs, explaining her nomadic existence.
And now she is at Triton. That came about after talking with her former work-study boss at Gustavus, Mark Hanson. Hanson is a 1979 graduate of Dodge Center High School and for the last 29 years has been the head men’s basketball coach at Gustavus.
The two have been in contact ever since Young’s college days. It was Hanson who told her about the girls basketball opening at Triton. The setup sounded good to her, kind of like going back to her old small-town school of G-F-W. Triton is also a conglomerate of three towns — Dodge Center, Claremont and West Concord.
"Mark talked really positively about Triton," Young said.
She hasn’t been disappointed. Young is teaching health and physical education at Triton Middle School and coaching the Cobras varsity girls basketball team.
She’s embraced both jobs as well as the entire Dodge Center-Claremont-West Concord community.
"This is a great community and the school has a great administration," Young said. "I’ve had (excellent) support. We had 20 people who were willing to help with our basketball program over the summer, which was huge."
WILLING TO LEARN
Young hasn’t been disappointed with her players, either. She says they have a thirst to learn and succeed. She’s also excited about the future, noting strong girls basketball talent throughout the Triton system, all the way down to the fourth grade.
"Our (players) are so versatile and balanced," Young said. "And they’re kind of like sponges. They want to get better."
Young’s players have been equally pleased with her. Top scorer Kendra Petersohn, a 5-foot-10 junior who averages 17 points per game, says that Young has infused new life into what had forever been a dormant program.
"Melissa has basically changed everything about the atmosphere," Petersohn said. "She’s getting everyone involved, and it is so much fun."
Young and her players know they’ve taken significant steps this season. They also know that to be considered one of the top programs in their always-loaded Hiawatha Valley League, that they have to take more steps.
Indications are that they’ll put in the time to get there. That’s already started, with balls still bouncing near midnight.