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Mrs. Firecracker

Asking Basalt girls basketball coach Debbie Alcorta to sit patiently on the sideline during a game is like asking a mountain lion to stay calm as a herd of deer scamper by.

Alcorta is animated for the entire 32 minutes of a regulation game. You’d swear she’s ready to suit up and lead by example rather than bark orders from the side.

When a player executes a perfect defensive play, Alcorta looks like she will sprint onto the court and hug her. When a star unleashes an ill-advised rainbow shot from well beyond the three-point line, Alcorta’s body language indicates she is willing herself not to run out and strangle the player (even if the shot is made).

Alcorta’s enthusiastic, fun-loving style has helped guide the Lady Longhorns deep into the state tournament for the second time in her two-year tenure as head coach. Her team went 25-2 and suffered a heartbreaking overtime loss in the late round of the tournament last year. The team then won the consolation bracket and placed fifth.

This year the team is 21-3 and making an appearance among “The Great Eight” of 3A schools. Basalt has the fifth seed in the state.

Coach has the inside line

Alcorta knows this team well. She’s coached many of the girls, all but the seniors, since they were fourth-graders through the town’s recreation program. She knows their strengths and weaknesses as well as she knows her own two young sons’ mannerisms.

“These girls are so talented they make me look good,” she said.

Talented but different than the team she inherited last year from former head coach Debbie Cain, who resigned to pursue other career opportunities.

Alcorta said last year’s team had natural leaders. This year’s squad features a hero du jour. She never knows which player will emerge to take charge of a game or if anyone will even grab the leader role. That’s sometimes required her to be the team leader as well as the coach.

Not that the team is without stars or spunk. Juniors Autumn Caughern and Lauren Redfern, both approaching 6 feet tall, can and often do dominate stretches of games on both sides of the court. They also appear a bit free-spirited and throw glares on the court that warn “don’t mess with me.”

Senior guard Mariah Mulcahy can score in bunches, particularly when her three-point shot is on.

Alcorta says that depth is the key strength of her team. She goes to her bench often, particularly when one of the twin towers needs a break or gets in foul trouble.

The reserves were needed to play solid defense last Friday in the first round of the state tournament against a young, tenacious team from Denver Christian. Basalt prevailed 56-50, thanks in large part to strong defensive play from reserves.

Season already a success

Regardless of how far the fifth-seeded Longhorns advance in the state tournament, Alcorta already considers this season a success. The players have learned to concentrate on their strengths and acknowledge their weaknesses, while having fun and realizing that mistakes are part of the game, she said. The goal is to help them understand their roles, give it their best shot and accept the outcome.

“Someday they’ll stop and say, ‘I get it. I get what Alcorta was trying to tell us,’ ” the coach said. “They’ll remember all the fun times.”

It should come as little surprise that the team has spunk. Alcorta encourages it. At games she usually dresses in outfits that feature the colors of the opposing team. The habit, she said, came from her high school coach in Wilcox, Neb., who used to wear a tie with the foe’s colors. It’s not meant to dis opponents as much as motivate her players. The message, she said, is “I don’t feel intimidated. I feel comfortable. I feel prepared.”

Alcorta said she never would have identified herself as coaching material as a high school player. She didn’t have an abundance of patience and was known for her attitude. What goes around, comes around, however. “I have been given a basketball team that’s made me be patient,” she said.

Full of surprises

Alcorta earned a college degree in teaching but then discovered she wasn’t all that fond of elementary school-age kids. But she’s proven to do the unexpected, in both life and sports.

Her classmates voted her least likely to get married and have kids. But she and husband Nick Alcorta have two boys, a 7-year-old and a 4-year-old.

In sports, Alcorta was recruited to coach the high school girls basketball team when she and Nick lived in Imperial, Calif. She inherited a dismal team and coached it to an 11-11 record and a playoff performance in her first season. In her second year there, the team competed for the conference title and again made the playoffs.

In Basalt, Alcorta started coaching in the recreation program and served as Cain’s assistant coach for five seasons. Her duties included coaching the freshmen and junior varsity teams.

The success of the girls high school program feeds off itself, inspiring Basalt grade school girls. “Their dream is to be a Lady Longhorn basketball player,” said Alcorta. She attributes some of that success to her husband. Nick is the former director of the Basalt Recreation Department. He built particularly strong programs in baseball and girls basketball, Alcorta said.

The youth development has paid off the last several years for the high school. Alcorta said Basalt no longer has girls who are merely content with making varsity but then prefer to sit on the bench. The school has 12 girls who contribute and often vie for playing time. And with only three seniors this year, the team seems poised for a strong run in the future.

In the big picture, Alcorta believes her team is a good representative not only of Basalt but also of the entire Western Slope. By advancing far into the state tournament last year and repeating this year, the team has dispelled the myth that a strong Western Slope team beats up mediocre competition during the regular season but folds against the Front Range teams in the tourney.

But ultimately, Alcorta’s intent is to teach her girls about doing their best and playing as a team, not just about winning. “Would it be nice to win the state championship? Yes. But that’s not the main goal,” she said.

The Basalt girls travel to the Colorado Springs area on Thursday for the state quarterfinals, aka “The Great Eight.” The Longhorns will face No. 4 Estes Park, which has a 22-3 record.

The game will be at 10:15 a.m. and will be broadcast on KMTS radio, 99.1 on the FM dial.


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