Energy is often infectious, and it only takes one glance to the Prairiland Lady Patriots’ sideline during a game to see where the team gets its drive from. Pacing up and down the court, clapping and shouting encouragement and instructions to her players, you will find head coach Callie Tucker, lighting a fire in all of her players.
Under Tucker’s direction, the Lady Patriots exceeded all expectations this year, finishing with an impressive record of 21-13 and making it to the regional quarterfinals for the first time since 1993.
A Paris native, Tucker attended Prairiland herself as a teenager, where she excelled on the basketball court. After graduating in 2012, she went on to play collegiately at Ottawa University in Kansas.
After getting her bachelor’s degree and master’s degree, she stayed in Ottawa for two years, serving as an assistant basketball coach at Ottawa High School.
“My mom didn’t really want me to go into coaching, because she knows all the time and energy and hours that go into it, since she’s seen behind the scenes and knows what it entails, but I kind of always knew that’s what I was going to end doing” Tucker said with a laugh. “Now that we’re here and we’re doing it, though, she couldn’t be happier or prouder of me, and she’s at every game going crazy.”
Though she enjoyed her time in Kansas, Tucker said her heart was in the Red River Valley, and she was itching to get back home. When she heard the head coaching position at her alma mater was opening up, she decided to apply, though she wasn’t expecting much.
“I thought to myself, ‘If I get it, great, but I’m not going to hold my breath, and if I don’t that’s OK too,’” she said. “When I got the phone call (about the job offer) I was a little shocked and incredibly excited. Coming home and coaching for the team that I played my heart out for is a dream come true.
“But I came here with a great group of girls who bought in immediately, and I hit the ground running and it’s been great.”
On the court, Tucker professes a balanced style of play. She alternates between running a fast-paced offense that looks to score in transition, and using half-court sets that slow the pace down.
Tucker is a believer in the adage that if you enjoy what you do, you never work a day in your life. All the challenges of coaching — such as long hours and meticulously scouting opposing teams — are fun for Tucker.
“I enjoy those parts of the job, I really do,” she said. “I like going through game film. I like going and watching games; on my nights off, if there are games playing, I’m going. Even if I’m not going to scout, I’m going just to learn and see what other coaches are doing.”
Tucker carries her passion for basketball over into her coaching, and it has helped ignite her players.
“I’ve had a few coaches since I’ve been playing, and i don’t think any of them have gotten as hyped or excited as she does,” said junior Hannah Murdock. “She really gets into it and does a great job firing us up, and she also does a great job managing things.
“When we win big games, it gets pretty hype in the locker room; it’s like a party in there. She really does believe in all of us, from the starters to the end of the bench.”
Coaching is a two-way street though, and Tucker said the players’ competitive drive also helps her be more energetic too.
“This group that I’ve had the last two years has drawn me in more and kept me excited a lot more than I thought I would be,” Tucker said. “It’s not just the game but the people you work with and the kids you work with.”
Prairiland’s season ended with a magical run through the playoffs that ended in the regional quarterfinals. Considered the underdog in each game, Tucker didn’t let that discourage her players, and orchestrated the deepest playoff run the team has had in more than two decades.
“We won a playoff game when I was a player here, and it was always a goal of mine to get over that hump, to get past the first round,” she said. “I knew that to do that, I’d have to come back to Prairiland, because I wanted to do it here. I wanted to be part of that building progress here. A lot of it is happening sooner than expected, but we’re going to take any opportunity that arises and make the best of it.”