There were a few smiles and confused looks on the faces of Brandon-Evansville girls basketball players as they worked through their offense on Tuesday evening.
That’s to be expected. First-year Chargers head coach Zach Traphagen was in just his second day of practice trying to implement a new system for this team after Traphagen took over for Sam Lange this offseason. It will be a little while before Brandon-Evansville is running through its offense as crisp as Traphagen wants them to be, but he’s been impressed so far with how well the girls are picking things up.
“When they first went through it, they kind of walked through the first time,” he said. “They were a little confused, and then they started jogging through it and they got it pretty quickly. It’s different when you’re doing it five-on-zero than when someone is guarding you, but for them to be able to grasp movement, spacing, I think I’ll be able to do a lot more with this group than most first-year head coaches are able to do.”
A lot of family in the area drew Traphagen to Brandon-Evansville this year with a physical education and health teaching position opening up in the school system.
Traphagen, 31, spent the last four seasons as the head boys basketball coach in Canby, and the prior two years as an assistant. He was a three-year starter at Worthington High School himself before playing two seasons at Minnesota West Community and Technical College in his hometown. This is his first time running a girls program as a coach.
“You can tell their effort is very good,” Traphagen said. “That’s the biggest thing I’ve taken away from (the first two days). I’m not going to be able to tell what they’re able to do athletically the first couple days. I can tell if they’re giving good effort or not, so that’s been our focus.”
Coaching has been a part of Traphagen’s family his whole life. His dad served as an activities director and assistant coach in Worthington for more than 30 years. His brother, Kellen, teaches and coaches in the B-E district, and his other brother, Wade, does the same in Alexandria.
“It’s a huge part of our family,” Zach said.
Zach takes over a Brandon-Evansville team that went 15-10 a year ago. Traphagen saw from a distance what kind of a program he was stepping into. The Chargers almost always find a way to put together winning seasons in the Little Eight Conference.
“I’ve always known the history for the girls program here is pretty good,” Traphagen said. “Dick Simpson, a legendary coach. Won 600 games in his career, so basketball has always had a good tradition here. I knew going in that it had been in good hands. Sam Lange was the coach the last two years. I met and worked with Sam this summer, and he made things very easy for me to transition into this.”
Traphagen worked with his players some this past summer, so he had a good idea of who he was working with coming into the winter season. He likes the talent on this team.
“There’s six senior girls who have played together for a long time,” he said. “They understand how to play the game. We have three juniors who are going to complement them too. We know that we got some pretty talented players this year.”
Traphagen’s first order of business is getting his players to understand how important being committed to defense is to him as a coach. The Chargers were pretty good at that last year. They held opponents to 41.9 points-per game in 2018-19, third fewest among the 10 teams in the Section 6A South field.
Scoring is what hindered Brandon-Evansville the most. The Chargers averaged 44.6 points themselves a year ago. That was tied with Battle Lake for last in points-per game in the South.
“If you don’t play defense, chances are you’re not going to play a lot for me,” Traphagen said. “Offensively, we need to make things happen there too because they struggled scoring last year. I’ve always been more of an up-tempo, push the pace type of a coach. These girls are able to do it, but I don’t know that it’s their No. 1 instinct to get out and run the floor. We’ll have to work a lot on that, but I think we have the kids to make some exciting plays.”
Traphagen does not know exactly what other programs in the LEC and Section 6A have this year, but he will find that out soon enough. His focus right now is worrying about his team and getting them ready to play their best basketball by the time playoffs start.
“The most important thing to me is that we are playing our very best basketball at the right moment,” he said. “We’re going into playoffs and we’re playing our best. I don’t know what all the other teams have necessarily, but I know what these girls have. They will be tough to beat if they’re playing at their best at the right time.”