Two Bitterroot coaches have been selected as finalists for the National High School Athletic Coaches Association (NHSACA) National Coach of the Year or Athletic Director of the Year.
The Montana Coaches Association announced 14 Montana coaches and one athletic director including Hamilton High School boys cross-country coach Mark Albert and Corvallis girls track and field coach Spencer Huls.
Montana Coaches Association Executive Director Don Olsen said coaches are nominated by each member state and eight finalists are selected in each sport category.
“This is a tremendous honor for Montana and for each of these well-deserved individuals,” Olsen said. “The nominees and finalists were selected based on longevity, service to high school athletics, honors, championship years and winning percentage. They are evaluated by experts in the field of coaching, using a sport-specific rubric to assign points in each category.”
Albert said the nomination was unexpected.
“Honestly, I was quite surprised by the honor since we haven't accomplished much in terms of state titles since 2016, the last time I was nominated,” he said. “I just completed my 18th year as the head cross country coach at Hamilton and our program is still very competitive, so I'm sure longevity played a role in the selection.”
Albert has coached both the boys and girls HHS cross country teams.
The boys team earned the state championship in 2008, 2013 and 2014; they were State runners up in 2007 and 2012; and placed third in 2011.
The girls team were state runners-up 2007 and third in 2008 and 2014.
Albert also has coached the HHS Girls Basketball team who earned the title of state champion in 2015 and state runners-up in 2009 and 2014.
"Coach Albert is a hard worker who puts a priority on fostering relationships with our students,” said Travis Blome, HHS activities director. “He has built our cross country program to be a very inclusive group that reaches every part of our student body."
Albert said he is,” humbled to be included with great coaches like Coach Huls.”
“I know this is not his first time and it definitely won't be his last nomination,” he said.
Huls said he is honored.
“It is a nice award but it is a team award,” he said. “It is labeled coach of the year but, honestly, you don’t get it unless you’ve had a long run of success.”
He credited success to skilled athletes and his assistant coaches that have been part of the Blue Devil team for 16 years. Mark Yoakam (a newcomer in his 14th Blue Devil year) trains the distance runners, Tina Moore trains sprints and relays, Brock Hammill works with jumpers, Garrett Middleton works with throwers and Robert Leever is the current pole-vault coach (in his fifth year) replacing Luke Swanson (who coached for 10 years).
“It is a great honor but it is a reflection of the staff,” Huls said. “We all want the same thing. We all want to build a program that’s focus is quality. Not in the conventional sense of wins and losses but is everybody trying to improve? Quality comes with the improvement.”
Huls said he knows not every athlete will have success in winning but he looks at four things.
“Did they work hard, focus, make it important and get better,” he said. “If they are doing that and everyone else is doing that then we win.”
He attributes fewer injuries to consistency and improvement.
“It is an all-year thing in track. We love three sport athletes,” he said. “Get in shape slowly and stay healthier. Everyone talks about track and field as an individual sport but we do better when the team success is at the forefront of all of our minds.”
CHS Activities Director Tyson Tucker said Huls has done a “tremendous job” with the CHS girls track program.
“He has created a culture of discipline and high expectations which has led to our team’s success,” Tucker said. “In the last nine years, our girls’ team has finished in the top three eight times. We won six straight state championships from 2011 – 2016 along with a 2nd place finish in 2017 and a third place finish in 2019. Our six straight state championships is the best in the history of Class A for consecutive championships.”
Tucker praised Huls and his coaches.
“He has surrounded himself with some of the best track coaches in their area for the state of Montana and possibly the country,” Tucker said. “We have also had numerous individual state champions and athletes that have gone on to compete in college. We are truly fortunate to have Coach Huls as our track coach and he is very deserving of this nomination.”
Huls also coached the boys track team who earned five state championships (2009, 2010, 2012, 2015 and 2018), three second and one third.
Finalists will be honored during The National Coach of the Year Awards Banquet during the NHSACA National Convention in Lincoln, Nebraska, on July 23. Friends, family and fellow coaches are encouraged to attend. The NHSACA National Coach of the Year will be recognized in nineteen sports categories.
Albert said attending the conference is expensive but it is an excellent event.
“I'm hoping I can find a way to attend this summer,” Albert said.
NHSACA was formed by coaches, for coaches, and has been recognizing National Coaches of the Year since 1978. For more information, visit www.hscoaches.org/.
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