Practice started at noon.
Most of the players were there early. Way early.
After all, athletes in the Prairie girls basketball program always have high expectations.
Even if there is a new coach.
There was nothing typical about the first day of girls basketball practice Monday at Prairie High School.
Mike Smith is in charge now.
Al Aldridge, the six-time state champion coach who led the Falcons in all but one season since 1979, has moved on. He is now coaching women’s basketball at Clark College.
If it was a little strange to be at a Prairie practice without Aldridge around, the players did not show it.
While appreciative of all Aldridge has taught them, the co-captains of this year’s squad also welcome the new leader.
“I have complete faith in him,” senior Megan Lindsley said. “He is as dedicated as we are to being successful. He has the best intentions for us.”
The players prefer not to compare the two coaches.
“We love Al, and we love Coach Mike. We love them both,” Lindsley said. “We were blessed to have them both in our basketball careers.”
“They’re both great coaches,” senior Cori Woodward said. “Just different people. Whatever (Aldridge) is doing, we just wish the best for him. We want him to be happy for us, too.”
Smith has been working with many of his players since the summer. Monday, though, was the first day of winter sports practice.
In his first official words of the season, at the team meeting at noon, he said the goal is to keep the program “up here,” raising his hand above his head.
The Falcons won the Class 3A state championship last year. Smith and this year’s Falcons expect to compete for another state championship.
There are holes to fill, work to be done, but just because there is a new coach does not mean the expectations have changed.
“A lot of people say I have big shoes to fill. I have my own shoes to fill,” Smith said. “I’m excited to get the girls going.
“The bar is set high, and we’re going to keep on going.”
The players appreciate the challenge.
“I think we’re going to be good. There won’t be a drop-off, like everyone thinks there is going to be. We’re going to be just like every Prairie team before,” Woodward said.
“I’m pretty stoked,” Lindsley said. “We’re going to come into the gym every day and we’re going to get better every day. Every day is a new journey.”
This new season at Prairie just happens to be a lot different than all the other new seasons.