BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
DONNELLSON – The Central Lee/Holy Trinity rivalry just got amped up a bit.
Former Fort Madison Aquinas and Holy Trinity Catholic girls head coach Jay Baldwin was announced on Wednesday evening as the new girls basketball coach at Central Lee.
Baldwin replaces Lane Weirather who took the Hawks to within one game of the state tournament last year behind junior phenom Mya Merschman.
Baldwin is a two-time Coach of the Year with the Iowa Girls Coaches Association, and was a Southeast Iowa Superconference Coach of the Year on five different occasions during his 10-year run that ended in 2008 at HTC.
He said the hire by Central Lee Superintendent Dr. Andy Crozier and Activities Director Jerry Ireland was a “whirlwind” and happened so fast he barely had time to let his family know.
“They called me and it was like a whirlwind romance. I talked to them for 45 minutes and then about 10 minutes later Jerry called and said they wanted to offer me the job. I hadn’t even talked to my family about it,” Baldwin said.
Baldwin has been the assistant coach for Holy Trinity Catholic’s boys team under John Hellige through last season. He said that was the toughest part of the decision.
“John… I love that guy and that took everything I had,” Baldwin said. “I struggled trying to call him and I didn’t know what to say. John is one of those guys I’ve been around and been friends with forever.”
The Central Lee and Holy Trinity Catholic rivalry is a healthy part of the Lee County sports and Baldwin said this move will make it even better for the fans.
He said he has lots of friends in the system and the district and when the ball goes up, it’s a ball game, but before and after those friendships are the bigger part.
He said he’s very familiar with the Central Lee fan base and the school has a big following.
“That’s the biggest thing. I love that they pack the house,” Baldwin said. “They have a great following and very passionate fans. I love it when the fans are all packed in, you got the smell of the popcorn, and it’s 0 degrees outside – that’s an adrenaline rush for me.”
Baldwin is coming off hip and knee replacements over the winter and said he’s never felt better. He said the pain the joints were making it hard for him to concentrate, but now there should be no limitations as he’s walking up to two miles a day and his health is better.
The Hawks are come off a 16-win season where Des Moines Christian put a nine-point win in the regional final to keep the Central Lee girls from a trip to the state tourney.
Merschman finished second in the state in Class 3A scoring with 25.3 points per game, shooting almost 58% from the field.
Others contributors that will return include freshman Makayla Morrison at eight points per game and Ella Sanders at just over five points per game. The two combined for eight boards per game.
The 58-year-old coach said he hasn’t had time to look deeper into the program other than watching them play during boys/girls double headers the past few years.
“That’s a good and a bad. I haven’t had a chance to look at much of anything other than watching them play before the boys’ games”, he said. “I don’t know a whole lot about what’s going on. Until then, the high school stuff will be looking at Huddle and reviewing some tape.”
Baldwin will be joined by former Burlington Notre Dame standout Taylor Hickey, who’s played college ball at Quincy University.
“It will be good to have some youth on the bench and she can relate to them. I’m the old guy on the bench so it’s good to have that liaison there. But she will certainly bring a lot to the table having played in high school and college.”
The game, Baldwin said, hasn’t changed a whole lot. He said girls basketball is more of a strategy game, because usually you don’t have the superstars that can take over a game.
“You play below the rim so to speak,” he said. “It hasn’t changed much, but it taxes you to figure out ways to make things happen. Teams have to work together. You don’t have to have the best athletes, but if they are on the same page you can accomplish things.”
Baldwin led Fort Madison Aquinas to the state tournament 2002 and 2004, and then took Holy Trinity Catholic back his last year in 2008.
He is the second varsity sports coaching hire this year as Chuck Banks was hired in April to take over the Hawks football program.