Derek Hilliard named SHS Varsity Girls Basketball Head Coach
Tracy Sykes to continue as girls’ coordinator, building SMS and SHS programs
Tracy Sykes and Derek Hilliard have come up with plan to make the SHS and SMS girls basketball programs even better. Hilliard will be the SHS head girls basketball coach, while Sykes will focus on all girls sports as well as middle school basketball.
Derek Hilliard, who has served as the Sanger High School varsity girls basketball assistant coach for three years, has been named head coach, while Tracy Sykes will take Hilliard’s spot as assistant varsity coach as she moves into more of a development-focused role as girls athletic coordinator for both Sanger High School and Sanger Middle School. Coming off a season where the SHS varsity girls basketball team made it to the regional finals this year for the first time since 1981, both Hilliard and Sykes couldn’t be happier about the coaching changes. “This move isn’t about me, it’s about the program,” Sykes said. “I can now help more with all of the girls sports. Not being head coach frees me up to do a better job as girls coordinator.” Both Sykes and Hilliard emphasized how important the middle school basketball program is to the success of future SHS teams. The middle school program has young, energetic coaches willing to learn and gain valuable experience. “My goal is to help our middle school program be the best middle school basketball program there is. I plan to mentor the coaches and spend a lot of time there,” Sykes said. “And I’ll be able to help with all of the sports that our girls are involved in, not just basketball. It’s exciting to me to have more time to dedicate to all sports.” This year’s varsity regional-finalist team will lose three starters to graduation – Maci Turkoly, Tatum Whitewood, and Allye Morrow. “Getting to the regional tournament, the kids in the program now really believe in it,” Hilliard said. “We have post-season meetings with these kids individually and the things that come out of their mouths, the looks on their faces – it’s all completely different. They are all so excited and proud and ready to work. In spring games, they’re talking on the court, telling each other what to do – things we’ve begged them to do in the past. There’s no need to change what we’re doing. We’re just going to keep pushing and building on what we’ve done to this point.” Over the past few years, Hilliard has had opportunities to move elsewhere to be a head coach, but didn’t want to drive a few hours to work and also didn’t want to move his family. Sykes said she is positive that this is the right move for the girls basketball program. “I’ve been approached by people who have asked if I’m sure about this change, and whether or not it bugs me. But it’s not about me. That’s what people might not understand. This is about us. This is about our program, and I guarantee it’s the best decision for our program. It will free up my time to do my job better,” she said. “When Coach Hilliard and I initially went to Coach Galbreath [Athletic Director] with the plan, that’s how we explained the request for the change. It’s not a him thing or a her thing. It’s an us thing.” “I wouldn’t just give this head coaching job up to anyone,” Sykes said. “Coach Hilliard deserves it and is ready. It’s his team. I’ll still be a varsity assistant coach, so I’ll be sitting on the bench now as he’s standing. This change is going to be successful. I honestly believe that. And the girls believe it to. You can tell that their demeanor in practice is a lot different. They’ve had great success and they believe in the culture we’ve established.” Hilliard said the plan for Sykes to focus more on development of the middle school girls basketball program will give the athletes a smoother transition to high school ball. “I know Coach Sykes will have the middle schoolers ready for high school basketball,” Hilliard said. “The junior high level is the foundation. We’re trying to compete here, and we can’t start from square one when these kids are freshmen. We actually may have some freshman who will be on varsity – like Chloe Malone this year and Brooke Rollins three years ago – and I know Coach Sykes will have them prepared.” As for the reactions of the current varsity players, Hilliard said it was inspiring. “I’ve coached these incoming seniors since they were freshmen,” he said, “so we have developed relationships. They were completely okay with the change.” Sykes said the reaction of the coaching change from the players was great, and was something she expected it to be. “When we told them, I basically explained how this would allow me to be involved in more sports in both schools – volleyball, cross country, track – and every single one of our players shook their heads, because they all know that this is who I am,” Sykes said. “They know I love basketball, but they also know I love all sports. They know the passion is there in each sport I coach, so they were fine with it. I want to coach these girls – in middle school and high school – and I’m gonna give them everything I’ve got. I’ve never cared about job titles. I see the whole picture of our program and this will help us in so many ways.” No significant changes have occurred since Hilliard has been named head coach, but the overall success of the high school varsity basketball program over the past few years, culminating in this year’s deep playoff run, has everyone excited, the coaches said. “It’s business as usual around here,” Hilliard said. “Our philosophy is the same and the culture has been established. The bar has been raised and you can see it in practice and the spring games. Their mindset has changed for the better. I’m excited and relieved. It’s a hard job when you put passion in it, and that’s what I do. I’ve worked hard for ten years and couldn’t be at a better place than in Sanger. I love it here. I love our staff, the kids, the parents, everything.” Hilliard said that in his first year working with Sykes, they were coaches and acquaintances, but over the past couple of years, they have become friends. And, most importantly, they trust each other. “We’ve worked together for three years, and over that time she’s given me more responsibilities and has allowed me to take over some things and work some ideas or plans. Not one time has she shut it down,” he said. “With most things, we talk about them before we even do it. If we disagree about an approach, we talk about it. That’s what a good, functional coaching staff does.” Sykes is similarly excited and positive about the change in coaching roles. “This change is going to help in so many ways. Coach Hilliard and I work so well together,” Sykes said. “I study UConn and admire how well Geno Auriemma and his long-time assistant Chris Dailey work together. Things are going to work out well this way.” ABOUT COACH SYKES Tracy previously coached at Argyle ISD before coming to Sanger ISD and has 23 years of experience. She was the Sanger Middle School girls coordinator from 2005-2015. After becoming head coach of the Sanger High School varsity girls basketball team three years ago, her teams were regional quarterfinalists in the 2015-16 school year and regional finalists in the 2017-18 school year. Tracy is a graduate of Schreiner University in Kerrville, Texas, where she played basketball for four years and served as a grad assistant for one year. She has been married to her husband, Shane, for 22 years. They have two sons, Casey, 21, and Mickey, 18. ABOUT COACH HILLIARD Derek graduated from Krum High School in 2002, and played under legendary Krum head coach Troy Hamm all four years of high school. Derek went on to earn a B.S. in Kinesiology with a minor in History from the University of North Texas. After graduating from college, Hilliard spent four years at Krum High School as assistant coach for varsity boys basketball under head coach Lance Boxell. During those four years, Krum won two district championships. Derek then coached boys basketball at Azle High School for a year before switching to girls basketball, coaching at Argyle High School under another legendary coach, Skip Townsend. Derek was assistant varsity girls coach in Argyle for two years and coached in two state championship games, winning one. Derek then came to Sanger High School, and has been here for three years. Derek has been married to his wife, Rainy, for 10 years. They have two daughters, Davlyn, 6, and Dylan, 3.