To this day, Lamar girls basketball coach Erik Melgoza can’t believe what his team accomplished back in March.
It was a low-scoring affair, but the Savages edged league rival Colorado Springs Christian 24-18 to claim the Class 3A girls hoops title. It was the school’s first girls basketball championship since 1998.
But even though the championship win still hasn’t sunk in, Melgoza is ready to get to work on the next one.
And he took the time to talk about how his girls get in that mindset and what exactly a championship means for the Lamar community.
Question: How long did it take for that championship victory to sink in?
Melgoza: It really still hasn’t sunk in. Right after the game, I kind of reflected this summer, but right after the game I couldn’t believe it.
And even more now, I really can’t believe it.
When you work as hard as these kids have worked and this coaching staff has worked, it’s hard to believe that a goal is finally accomplished.
Q: Do the girls feel the same way?
Melgoza: Our girls are pretty resilient. I think they realize it, but I don’t know that it’s really sunk in. To an extent with some of them, I really like the attitude they displayed during summer ball, because (last season) is over.
I’ve always said that if you’re looking at yesterday then you haven’t done much today.
I just told the girls that what we last year is over and we need to start to work again. I think it’s sunk in, but they know have a lot of opportunities ahead of them. Instead of looking behind them, they’re looking forward.
Q: Did you find it tough to be in that championship game against CSCS having beaten them and been beaten by them already?
Melgoza: I think it was an opportunity that was really good for us. You can look back the last few years and Manitou has been really tough and represented our league well.
I just think having two (league) teams in the championship was awesome for us. Playing them, we really did want to play them and we felt comfortable playing them.
It was probably a better matchup for us than the alternative. I think we were okay with it. We were very happy to be there and very fortunate.
The kids are very focused and for us it was quite a state tournament run. A couple of things happened at the last second in both those games.
We were just happy to be there and get it done.
Q: Between then and now with school getting ready to start, how do you balance the duties of being a multi-sport coach?
Melgoza: You know, I also coach boys basketball, I’m the head cross country coach for boys and I coach track.
I just split my summers up and I’m very focused in what I do. I always don’t look ahead to the next sport.
June is basketball. That’s all we do. Then of course I pass them off to volleyball and encourage girls to play volleyball and softball and really learn to compete in other sports. I think that huge thing for kids to learn.
When we get them back in the winter, we’re able to compete really well.
It’s kind of what I encourage.
In July, I spend it with my cross country boys. Last year we weren’t as good as we’ve been in the past, but we put a lot of work in during July. We take a lot of trips, we get some altitude training in. We just get around each other and get used to each other and know what the expectations are in July.
I have about a week off now and then school starts.
Q: Does it help when your kids see you walk the walk when it comes to being involved in multiple sports?
Melgoza: I think it does. I think as coaches, we sometime miss the opportunity to display that teamwork with other coaches and our peers.
I just read a deal the other day about assistant coaches and how they have the biggest opportunity to display teamwork just because they’re a part of a team of a coaching staff.
A lot of times with my assistant coaches, they coach. I delegate things and I don’t micromanage them.
I think the kids see that and they buy into that. They know they can go to an assistant coach and if an assistant coach says something, it’s like I said it.
It’s just a delegation of responsibilities. So it makes it I don’t want to say easier on me, but I feel more comfortable when I have coaches coaching. And when you allow somebody to do their job without micromanaging them, they really bind to your program.
I’m very fortunate in that aspect.
Q: Coaching in a town like Lamar, do you feel like there’s a stronger sense of community than what you would see in a metro area where kids might be able to choice into a variety of schools?
Melgoza: I really do and I think my eyes have been opened a little bit as I get around the state.
I think from 3A on down, there’s a big sense of community to a certain extent. I think it’s a little different with certain cities and certain city limits like Colorado Springs. They can get kids from anywhere.
Manitou might be unique in that it might be mostly their kids.
It’s a situation here in Lamar where kids are born and raised here. Kids don’t move into Lamar. These kids have grown up together and I think that’s really huge and it’s kind of fun.
I think smaller schools, 2A and 1A, if you go to a state tournament, they’ll close down the town. I think that happens with some 3A schools.
If you go to 4A and 5A, there’s a lot of club going on and there are so many different things like that. It’s hard to get buy-in from fans. You might a few friends there. You might have grandma and grandpa there. But a sense of community, I really don’t see.
Q: Does that help you and your girls appreciate something like a state championship more?
Melgoza: It really does. Talking to the girls, it wasn’t just about them and the work they’ve done.
The community supports us through fundraisers and social media. Kids are going to the local businesses and everyone knows who they are. They’ll go and watch them on Friday and Saturday night. They ask them how they’re doing.
It’s just a huge community support system. It’s not like the community knows of a kid, they actually know who that kid is. They know the family and a lot of times there’s history.
I have some kids on the team now that their mothers played basketball here at Lamar. So it’s really kind of fun.
Q: Does it make it more fun knowing you have Cassie Forgue and Cali Clark and some of those other younger girls coming back?
Melgoza: I think the big there is that it’s always been fun for us. We’ve been pretty fortunate. We always have the same philosophy.
If you look back in the last two years before we made it, a few years ago we were third in state, but we were always close in regional championships.
We were losing to really good teams like Pagosa or Sterling.
When you come back with the nucleus of your team intact, I think the biggest opportunity is going to be building some kids that really learn and understand their roles.
That’s the hardest thing there is.
I’m losing some role players that are just dynamite kids that were seniors and just accepted a role.
That’s going to be the hardest thing to replace.
Q: So how do you coach up those incoming freshmen, or sophomores, or juniors that have to fill those roles?
Melgoza: I think that we just do the same thing we keep doing. It’s the same culture.
We’re like every other team in the state. We have one goal in mind and that’s to win a state championship.
That’s how you start kids off is getting them to believe in themselves. As coaches, we went to some coaching clinics this summer and we got better. I feel like the knowledge is there, but like with myself, do I always get that knowledge across?
Am I able to teach the game and teach the kids about life? Am I able to do those important things?
So you go to coaching clinics, you get your batteries recharged and listen to coaches who are a lot better than me and really learn how to do that.
Q: Does coming off a state championship add more excitement to an upcoming year?
Melgoza: Not really. It’s back to business as usual. One of the girls, I think it was Brecken Payne, said that we’ve done it. We’ve accomplished that goal so now we’re on to the next one.
The next goal is to win a state championship. Not another one, not repeat, not things like that. That’s over and that’s done.
It’s business as usual and we’re getting right back after it.