Not so long ago, Hayley Hodgins was draining 3-pointers for Chiawana High School on every court on the Mid-Columbia Conference.
Hodgins — now Middleton after marrying high school sweetheart Matt Middleton last July — with her stellar college career at Eastern Washington University behind her, will be on the coaching side of the court after being named the head coach of the Richland High School girls basketball team.
“I had heard it was open and I applied,” Middleton said Thursday night, when the decision was announced. “I’m recently back in the area and I am passionate about developing basketball in our area. I think I’m qualified. I was pleasantly surprised I got it. Now, I have to prove myself.”
Middleton said she told the hiring committee that her goal was to make the players better people and better players.
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“I have been in their shoes,” Middleton said of her players. “I know there will be the good and the bad right off the bat, but you can’t please everyone. You can either be loved or hated until you prove yourself.”
Middleton starred at EWU for four years and graduated from the program as the school’s all-time leading scorer with 1,819 points, surpassing Brenda Souther (1,733 points, 1983-87).
Middleton is sixth all-time in scoring in the Big Sky Conference. She was a two-time First-Team All-Big Sky performer and was the Big Sky Freshman of the Year.
She hopes to parlay her talents and experience into helping the Bombers succeed.
“I am so excited,” Middleton said. “I have so many resources just through my own experiences. I’m not shy to ask questions. I knew going in I lacked the experience. I will ask for help — I may need it. This is such a cool experience for someone for my age. I’m excited to see where it goes. It will be a learning experience for everybody. I just want to make basketball better. I want to make these girls reach their potential. I feel I have the skill and knowledge to get them there.
“I happy to be a Bomber,” the former Chiawana star said before laughing. “Did I just say that?”
One of Middleton’s objectives is to bring the passion back to basketball in the Mid-Columbia.
“That comes from coaching,” she said. “I bring that to the table. I was just there. I was fortunate to have coaches invested in me, and I had amazing experiences because of that. It is a start fresh. We are going to be learning together. They have the talent and a community that supports them. It will be an interesting dynamic, for sure.”
If the need for advice should arise, her parents — Mike and Karen — are just down the road or a phone call away. Karen (nee Murray) was a standout player at the University of Washington, and her name still is sprinkled throughout the UW records books. She also played professionally in Europe, where she was coached by Mike.
“My dad has been coaching for almost 30 years, and he’s always learning something new,” Middleton said. “The game is always changing. You have to keep learning.”
Mike Connor, who spent three years as coach of the Southridge girls basketball team, has shifted gears, taking the head boys basketball job at Tri-Cities Prep.
“It kind of fell into my lap,” Connor said of the TCP job. “I really wanted to coach boys again. Southridge was a great situation for me, but I coached boys for 27 years.”
Connor said he was sad to leave Southridge, but that Tri-Cities Prep was the right fit for him.
“I feel like I’ve left Southridge in a better place,” he said. “They have a soft spot in my heart. I really enjoyed my time there.”
Joining Connor’s staff at TCP will be Will Wang, who was an assistant for the Southridge boys team.