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Powell native to coach college hoops

Jaci Heny is once again moving on from a successful high school career to begin a promising college career.

Heny, a 2002 Powell High School grad and Lady Panthers basketball standout, accepted the head assistant coaching position with the University of Great Falls Argos women’s basketball team after a six-year stint as head coach of the Douglas High School Bearcats girls’ team.

Heny stepped down from her position as head coach at Douglas April 9, just a month after her Bearcats lost the class 3A state championship game 56-46 to Star Valley.

Heny said she left Douglas for “personal reasons,” but it wasn’t an easy decision.

“I was trying to take it one step at a time and make sure it was the right decision for me at that point in my life,” Heny said.

Heny applied to other high schools following her resignation and said she was not offered the job in Great Falls until she had already left her post in Douglas.

“My goal was to keep on coaching,” Heny said. “Basketball has always been a part of my life.”

Argos head coach Bill Himmelberg was familiar with Heny from her days as a second-team All-American guard for the Frontier League rival Montana State University-Northern Skylights, and from her years coaching in Douglas.

“When I had an opening she was kind of the first (person) that crossed my mind,” Himmelberg said. “She was our first choice and we got her so I feel pretty lucky.”

Himmelberg said Heny’s passion and reputation as a player’s coach made her a strong candidate for the position.

“We really wanted to bring that intensity and fire to our teams,” he said. “(Our) players are going to play hard for her.”

After six years of being the head of a high school program Heny said she is excited to coach collegiate athletes.

“I’m excited to not deal with parents as much as I had to,” Heny said. “(College players) should be more motivated individually and that’s what I’m excited for.”

Heny’s main focuses as the lead assistant will be on recruiting, scouting and individual player development.

Heny will embark on her first recruiting trips this summer with stops in Las Vegas, Seattle, San Diego and Portland, Ore.

Himmelberg said he and Heny will likely split the duty of writing scouting reports of opposing teams, with each coach taking one game a week.

Equipped with a master’s degree in athletic administration and coaching from the University of Concordia, Heny can teach at University of Great Falls if she chooses to, but as of now will focus solely on coaching.

Heny sits atop the Lady Panthers’ record books for most points scored in a career (1135), season (452 in ‘01-’02) and game (30). She is also the career leader in steals with 214 and fourth in career assists with 236.

She left her MSU-Northern Skylights in similar fashion, setting records for most points in a single game (40 on Feb 2, 2006) and in a career (616), as well as most free throws made (229) and attempted (268) in a season. She also set the record for highest per-game scoring average at 20.5 points. All four of her season records were set in the 2005-06 season — her last as a player.

Himmelberg thinks Heny’s successful track record will earn the respect of his young Argos team.

“She’s someone the girls can really look up to,” he said. “They want someone that’s been there that they can really work for.”

The 2013-14 Argos will have only one senior player, leaving Heny with plenty of underclassmen to develop.

Heny finished playing for the Skylights in 2006 but graduated in 2007 after spending a season as a student-assistant coach under head coach Chris Mouat. Mouat, who coached Heny during her outstanding final season, will now be on the opposing team’s bench when the Argos face the Skylights twice a season.

“It’s going to be awkward,” Heny said, but she said the competition would remain friendly.

Heny ended her stint in Douglas with a 123-25 record. This past year was Heny’s best with the Bearcats, who went 28-0 before losing in the title game March 9.

Heny said that even though she lost that day in Casper, the state tournament will always stick out as a career highlight, along with time spent with players while on the road during summer league.

“My favorite moments came in the summer when we were traveling and the kids were just playing,” she said.

Though ready to take on a more behind-the-scenes coaching challenge, Heny isn’t sure that’s where she’ll stay forever.

“(As an assistant) it’s not all on me but … maybe someday at the college level I can be a head coach,” she said.

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