Former Track & Field: Kovatch (1993-96) leads Carencro to First Basketball State Championship
Kevin Foote, The Advertiser, March 9, 2018
Pardon Carencro coach Christopher Kovatch if he’s had to battle a little nostalgia this week as he’s prepared his No. 5-seeded Golden Bears for Friday’s 6 p.m. Class 4A state championship game against Woodlawn at Burton Coliseum in Lake Charles.
He just can’t helping thinking back to all the many roads he’s traveled to get this program to this point.
In fact, when Kovatch first arrived at Carencro High 19 years ago, he declined an assignment to be a boys basketball coach.
To get an idea of the program's state at that point, the Bears’ record the year before he took over was 0-24.More: LHSAA boys basketball scoreboard
Instead, the former javelin thrower at Brother Martin, SLU and UL under his mentor Charles Lancon learned more about the sport as a girls basketball assistant under Rhonda McCullough with the Lady Bears.
“When I got to Carencro, when they found out I had some limited knowledge of basketball, ‘Well hey, you know more than anyone else around here, so you’re coaching basketball.’”
After a year, Kovatch relented and began coaching the boys.
“Since then, it’s been uphill, downhill and all the valleys in between,” Kovatch said.
What knowledge and experience he didn’t have as a basketball coach, he made up for with hard work.
“I worked non-stop,” Kovatch said. “The one thing I knew is that you weren’t going to outwork me. I studied what those guys (experienced coaches in Acadiana area) did and through dissecting them, it helped develop my philosophy.”
When that road began for Kovatch, Carencro High was still in the middle of a highly successful football run under coach Mac Barousse. Basketball was beyond an afterthought on the campus.
“When you walk into a program that has some semblance of a program, you can change a culture,” Kovatch said. “But when there is no culture, it’s a little bit harder. When the only culture the community knows is football, it makes it even twice as hard. And when you have the success Carencro was having in football in that time period, it makes it triple as hard.”
It’s not that the Bears never had any talent until this season. It’s that they’ve never had a core group as deeply talented and committed as this year’s senior group.
“So it’s been a long process,” Kovatch said. “We had many a team with one good guy and we had many a team with two good guys. This is the first time, when we get off the bus, you can say, ‘They look the part.’ And obviously these guys prove they play the part too.”
Carencro High assistant coach La’Ryan Gary remembers his senior season in 2006 when the Bears got off to a great start — “something like 15-2 with the only two losses to (state champion) Northside” and some basketball fever was beginning to stir.
Patrick Richard was a sophomore and Ricky Johnson was a freshman.
But an ineligible player, an injury and then a school disciplinary action squashed that stellar start.
“We went from be a really good team and potentially a powerhouse in Class 5A to a mediocre team,” Gary said.
So when the wheels began to come off a bit for the Bears during District 4-4A play earlier this season, Gary began drawing some eerie parallels to his senior campaign.
Through it all, though, the other memory Gary couldn’t get out of his mind was the message Kovatch and this group of seniors gave me when he first returned to Carencro three seasons ago.
“The first thing they (players) told me is that they want to win a district championship and they wanted to win a state championship,” Gary said. “I knew how great a kids they were. Coach Kovatch had given me the insight of how they’ve been playing with each other for a long time and if there was a chance, this would be the group to do it with.”
Before they let the slump destroy this season, being reminded of that original goal helped bring the team back together.
“It (slump) allowed them to sit back and see that since they were freshman, they wanted to achieve these goals together, not as individuals,” Gary said. “It allowed them to get back to that.”
From a strategy standpoint, the slump also prepared the Bears for this historic run to the state finals by making them more defensive-minded.
“We really made a commitment to playing defense, especially when we went through some harder times in district against some great coaches that had great game plans for us,” Kovatch said. “We really committed ourselves to the defensive end. We’ve really been trying to keep our opponents in the 40s.”
That’ll certainly be a challenge against one of the state’s most high-flying offenses in Woodlawn. Of course, at this point, the Bears will take a win of any kind.
“I think what it’ll do is bring back the excitement that Carencro has for football, but bring it back to all the sports,” Gary said. “Not only are we a football school, but we play a lot of other sports too. We have the athletes and the coaches to lead them in other sports as well.
“It (state finals) allows kids to see that Carencro is a great school for athletics and that we’ve got some good leaders here. It’s just a good feeling because it’s always been a big family-oriented community. It’s always been a close-knit community.”
For Kovatch, a win Friday would put an exclamation point on his career-long journey.
“It’s one of those things you talk about and dream about,” he said. “It’s at the end of every sentence as you prepare your team at the beginning of the year when you’re in the weight room. It’s kind of surreal.
“We’re trying to get the kids to not only focus on the game, but hopefully enjoy a little bit of the experience as well. It’s special. A win would make it even more special.”