By COLE REIF
Great Bend Post
Alan Clark grew up around Barton Community College basketball, whether
it has been as a coach, player, referee or working in nearby Jayhawk Conference
When Clark took over the Barton women’s basketball program in 2016, the team was coming off a 14-17 season, only the seventh losing record in the program’s 46 years of competition. After spending the previous four years as the assistant for the Cougars, Clark’s mission was to return the program back to the top of the Jayhawk Conference and compete for Region VI titles.
“I was excited to get the job,” said Clark. “I felt like I was ready. I had seen what Tony Hobson did here. I saw what Lane Lord did. I was hoping to get the program back to where they had it. It took longer than I thought, but we finally got there.”
Now in his seventh year as head coach, Clark, along with assistant coach Bridgette Griffin, have guided the women’s basketball team back to the NJCAA National Tournament for the first time since 2008. The Cougars received the #16-seed, of the 24-team tournament, and will play Moberly Area Community College on Wednesday, March 22 in Lubbock, Texas.
A 1978 graduate from Barton Community College, Clark played point guard for the
Cougar basketball team. He was a member of the 1976-1977 team that won the
school’s first ever Jayhawk West Conference title with a 27-3 overall record.
“Playing at Barton was one of the best times of my life,” said Clark. “Coming in here and playing for Lorin Miller. It was a great experience. We lost in the Region VI Championship that year. I’m glad these girls are able to live some of what I was able to do back in that time.”
Following his playing career at Midland Lutheran College (now known as Midland University) in Fremont, Nebraska, Clark became a successful businessman while becoming a sports official. Serving as a referee, Clark officiated numerous Jayhawk Conference and Region VI playoff games.
He spent three years coaching
Otis-Bison High School boys basketball prior to arriving to Barton in 2012. While at Otis-Bison, Clark’s teams went to the state tournament twice,
including a runner-up finish in 2011.
“Barton Athletic Director Trevor Rolfs told me a young coach, Carter Kruger, was going to be promoted as head coach,” said Clark. “He wanted to know if I wanted to become an assistant to provide some experience.”
Clark learned a lot as an assistant the next four years. The biggest change was learning how to coach women.
“Carter taught me some nuances that women do in basketball,” said Clark. “Mostly about coaching in the post.”
After compiling a record of 33-30 after his first two seasons at Barton, Clark’s
team broke through with a 23-10 campaign in 2019 and made it to the Region VI
“Even before that, I felt like a turning point was the 2018 season when we beat Seward County here at home,” said Clark. “We then beat Butler on a last-second shot a couple games later. Those were some of the schools that we were chasing. Winning those two games at home was kind of the start of hey, we can do this.”
In 2020, thanks to a buzzer-beating three-pointer against Hutchinson in the semifinals, the Cougars reached their first Region VI Championship game in 12 years.
“Vanessa Oduah’s basket to beat Hutch was another big step,” said Clark. “Breaking that losing streak against Hutch was nice. Even though we lost badly to Butler in the finals that year, we were able to take another step.”
That would be the beginning of four straight appearances in the Region VI title game for the Cougars. After suffering defeat the previous three, Barton picked up a 60-56 win over Coffeyville on March 11 to win their first Region VI Championship in 15 years.
“I got text messages from former players and parents of former players,” said Clark. “They know how hard their kids worked at it. A lot of four-year coaches have been watching us for years, and they reached out to us and told us good job. It’s pretty neat.”
The 2021 Jayhawk Conference West Coach of the Year, Clark is 143-79 in seven years and ranks second for most wins in Barton history.
“Each year has just been a little bit better,” said Clark. “With the talent coming back this year, we felt like it was finally time for us to take that last step and win the Region.”
The Cougars’ game against Moberly Wednesday will tipoff at 10 a.m. in Lubbock. The broadcast will begin at 9:45 a.m. on 104.3 FM and online at greatbendpost.com.