A couple of Southwest Minnesota State University alumni hope to lead their respective Marshall High School basketball teams to the state tournament later this month.
Both the Tiger boy's and girl's teams are top seeds in their section. The Tiger boys, coached by 2002 alumnus Travis Carroll, opened section play with a win Tuesday and play Mankato East tonight in the semifinals.
The Tiger girls open section play Tuesday and are coached by 1989 alumnus Dan Westby.
Both programs made it to state in the same year in 2011 and 2001.
Carroll is in his second year as head coach and hopes to repeat the success of his first year, when the Tigers qualified for the state tournament.
He is a Fulda native who grew up in a gym. His father, Harvey, was a long-time assistant and head coach there. After playing basketball for a year at Ridgewater, he transferred to SMSU and earned a degree in Physical Education and Health Education. He's nearing completion of his master's in Education from SMSU.
"With dad coaching, you're around it a lot and it becomes a way of life. The advantage to that is that you understand some of the things that come with coaching, both the positives and the negatives."
After graduating, Carroll was the JV coach at Redwood Valley High School and then the ninth- and 10th-grade coach at LeRoy-Ostrander. From there it was down to Marcus High School in Flower Mound, Texas, where he was an assistant and helped the Marauders to the 2010-11 state 5A state title.
"My brother was working down there, that's how I ended up in Texas," he explained.
During his time at SMSU, Carroll became friends with Brad Bigler, who was a student then and head men's coach now. Carroll reached out to Bigler to inquire about the possibility of a graduate assistantship with the Mustang program.
"I was looking to get back closer to home," he said. "I knew coach Bigler in college and was fortunate to become a GA. The Marshall job came open (after a year) and I had taught at enough places to know what a quality school Marshall is. "
His timing was good. "Last year's group was experienced and determined," he said. "They knew we had an opportunity to be successful. Plus, there was a program in place. The kids have been playing for a lot of years in the youth program, and coach ("Iron Mike") Christensen is in charge of that and deserves credit, as well as the other youth coaches. That's a major factor."
Westby is a Danube native who transferred to SMSU after two years at Ridgewater. He was a running back on the first Mustang football team to have a winning record, in 1981.
He left the university for a couple of years to work in Marshall and Danube - "the money ran out" - then returned to finish his Physical Education degree. He took a teaching job in Renville, and returned to Marshall in 2000 as a teacher and assistant coach in volleyball and boy's basketball. After two years, he moved over to be an assistant for the girl's program, under head coach Terry Culhane, now the head volleyball coach at SMSU.
After four years, he was named head coach of the volleyball program.
Westby heads one of the most dominating programs in any sport in Minnesota. Since becoming head volleyball coach nine years ago, the Tigers have won six state titles, including the last three. Marshall has been to the state tournament 13 straight years. In 2011, he became a member of the Minnesota Volleyball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
He's appreciative of the coaches who came before him and established the "Marshall System" of trapping, full-court defense. "Terry (Culhane) started that, Bruce (Remme) took over and continued it we've tried to do the same things, too," he said.
Westby met many lifelong friends at SMSU, and likes the town and its relationship with the college.
"When I came to Southwest, I noticed two things: the faculty were always willing to help, and the city really supports the university," he said.
His future wife Deb (Oldfather, who played volleyball at SMSU) lived next door to him in a residence hall while at SMSU. They have a daughter, Rachel, who played volleyball for the Mustangs and who will graduate with an Exercise Science degree this coming May. "SMSU has been good to us," said Westby. "I remember Mike Sterner, Lew Shaver, Gary Buer, Jim Denevan, Glenn Mattke and Jeri Madden, they were all influential people when I attended.
"We have a good working relationship with SMSU, too - people like Chris (Hmielewski), Rolly (Muller), Brad (Bigler), Allison (Kruger) and Terry (Culhane). We're fortunate to have the relationship that we do."
Though they've taken different paths on their way to Marshall High School, the two SMSU alumni hope that they end the year at the same place - the state tournaments in the Twin Cities.