Cougars' Walker named 2-A coach of yearApr 6, 2017 By Randy Tucker, Staff Writer
Wind River's boys basketball leader was honored by the Wyoming Coaches Association.
Four decades separated the Wind River Cougars from their first and second state championship appearances, but since Wind River's 59-47 win over Rocky Mountain in the 2015 title game, the Cougars have been a familiar team in the championship contest.
Three consecutive appearances on the big stage at the Casper Events Center have set head coach Justin Walker on the pinnacle of coaching success.
The Cougar mentor was named the Class 2-A coach of the year by the Wyoming Coaches Association this week.
Walker's style of play is characterized by a blitzkrieg style of attack in the opening minutes of each half.
"We want to score the first 10 points of each half and play intense defense," said Walker.
His Cougars were 25-2 this season and sported four wins against just a single loss against their perennial rivals across the valley at Wyoming Indian High School.
The defeat against the Chiefs in the Class 2-A West regional championship game was a learning experience for Wind River.
Wyoming Indian played the Cougars a near-perfect game and victimized Wind River's man-to-man defense, putting the Cougar front line in foul trouble early.
Walker adjusted. A week later, on a bigger stage, Wind River's defense had adapted to the Chief offense, and the Cougars rolled to their second state championship in three years.
The team that prevented Wind River from a three-peat was Pine Bluffs, dominated by the tandem of Hunter Thompson and Haize Fornstrom.
The duo tallied 39 points in Wind River's opening-season 62-44 loss to the Hornets at Burns and scored all put six of Pine Bluffs's 65 points in the championship game last season.
Walker's defensive scheme this year wasn't set to stop them, but eliminate scoring by anyone else. The strategy worked, and Wind River beat the highly-touted Hornets in overtime this year to advance to the championship game.
Walker was assisted by Mark Cress and Jay Collins and worked with a group of 34 boys early in the season. His team developed well throughout the year, and with the graduation of just two seniors in stellar players Xavior Oats and Taylor Tidzump, the Cougars will be a favorite for a fourth trip to the big dance in 2018.