SAVAGE — One of Montana’s best girls basketball coaches has returned to the sidelines.
Bill Triplett won 408 games from 1989-2007 with Reed Point, including two state titles with the newly formed Reed Point-Rapelje co-op in 2005 and 2006. He also won a state title coaching Reed Point’s boys in 1994. After 10 years coaching basketball and softball at Minot State University, Triplett has returned to Montana and taken over the reins with the Savage girls.
Coaching wasn’t something Triplett had planned on doing after his retirement from Minot State in July of 2017. Triplett spent four years as an assistant coach for the women’s basketball team and 10 years as head coach of the women’s softball team, compiling a 298-172 record on the diamond. With his wife, Kara, coaching the boys at Richey-Lambert, Triplett had no intention of coaching again, instead hoping to see his step-son play. But the Savage job opened up just before the season when former coach Henry Huber took another job, and Triplett took the gig, swallowing the 80-mile daily round trip with it.
And it hasn’t come without high expectations. The Warriors won the District 2C tournament last year but faltered at the Eastern C divisional tournament and saw district foes Plentywood and Froid-Medicine Lake move on to the state tournament.
“When (the seniors) were sophomores, they made the state tournament and then totally expected to go back last year,” Triplett said. “So not making it last year I’m sure has motivated them. It’s motivated them to get in the gym on their own, it’s motivated them to get the right amount of rest and eat right, to shoot the ball on Sunday afternoons, get a key to the gym. They’re very motivated to get back there, and I’m sure some of it has to do with last year.”
Triplett has changed the way Savage plays from last year’s team, though, saying that they’re quite different. He’s taken advantage of the speed and athleticism that the Warriors possess and transformed Savage into playing an up-tempo, pressure defense style.
“In these Class C schools, you kind of have to work with the talent that you have, you can’t stick with one thing all the time,” Triplett said. “We have two really nice guards with speed in (Tyler) Lien and (Haley) Conradson, and another good athlete in Soda Rice, who’s long and lanky and can run. We try and get up and down the floor and defend the whole floor, scramble around, cause a lot of havoc out there, and it’s worked pretty well so far.”
However, playing a new style hasn’t come without its bumps and bruises. The turnover numbers at the beginning of the season were too high for Triplett’s liking, but over the last few weeks he’s seen the numbers drop and his girls play more in control.
And Savage’s record is reflective of that. The Warriors are still unbeaten at 16-0 and sit No. 2 in the MontanaSports.com power rankings. Savage, though, has its biggest test still ahead. On the regular season’s final weekend, Savage hosts Plentywood on Friday and visits No. 5 Froid-Medicine Lake on Saturday and will be looking to establish itself as the favorite entering the district tournament.
“There’s five really solid teams in this district, so it will just make you better come tournament time. But on the other hand, they all know what you do. The coaches, they all study film. They prepare really well. There’s some really good coaches up here in this league,” Triplett said. “So you’ve kind of got to pull some things out and not use some things in the regular season that you want to use at the tournament, but as far as the competition throughout the year, it’s only going to make us better.”
Ultimately, the state tournament is the goal for Triplett and the Savage girls. For the Warriors to get there, they’ll need the offense to continue to click. Part of what has enabled Savage to continue winning is its offensive diversity. Four girls are averaging double figures, making opposing defenses pick who beats them on a given night. According to Triplett, all four have led the team in scoring at some point this season.
While this is the last run for the seniors in Savage, it could also be Triplett’s final year. With his step-son set to be a senior next year for Richey-Lambert, Triplett has not set any plans in stone for his future, though the long commute has taken its toll.
“I’m really, really enjoying it. I’ve got nice players and they’re all very hard workers and great to work with, lot of fun,” he said. “So it will be a tough decision. If they get some teacher in there that wants to coach basketball, that will be great, too. My future is kind of up in the air, I just wish it wasn’t 80 miles every day and missing some of my kid’s games, but we’ll see what happens.”