The improvement of the Bayfield High School girls basketball team was clear under the coaching of Josh Kitchen. But when players decided not to join the team during the COVID-19 altered 2021 season, the Wolverines were up against a big fight.
Shortly into the 2021 season, Bayfield High School posted a job opening for a new girls basketball coach, as Kitchen had informed the school of his plan to resign after the season. BHS would finish 1-12 overall and 1-8 in the 3A Intermountain league, far from the way the Wolverines expected the year to go before the pandemic hit a spring earlier.
“A lot of teams in our league, their coaches came up to me right away like, ‘I can’t believe it, we thought you guys would be top 15 easy, if not going to state,’” Kitchen recalled. “You know, they thought we had a real shot at it. It was definitely challenging – especially for some of our seniors who’d spent so much time playing varsity – and kind of frustrating not to fulfill that dream.
“Between losing girls to moving and club volleyball and COVID, all kinds of stuff, the girls we had worked really, really hard. Obviously, it wasn’t the season we expected. We were putting together girls that hadn’t spent a lot of time playing together, weren’t used to certain positions, but I thought in general the girls stepped up and did a really nice job.”
Kudos to Kitchen poured out from across the league in 2021 despite the team’s record. Pagosa Springs head coach Charles Rand credited Kitchen’s defense for silencing his team’s best shooter.
Centauri head coach Troy Reynolds noticed how hard the Wolverines continued to play.
“Hats off to coach Kitchen. He was making those girls play hard. They played aggressive and did a good job on us, I felt,” said Reynolds, who coached the Falcons to a league title and into the state’s Great 8 round of the tournament.
Kitchen admitted he’d actually been mulling over resigning for some time, primarily to focus on a family proud to have completed adoption of a possible future Wolverine.
“My wife and I had talked about it probably for six months before the season even started,” Kitchen said. “At the end of last season, we’d even thought about it. I was like, ‘I’ve got to do summer basketball,’ and then it was kind of one of those things where I’ve got to keep coaching. So we made the decision probably two months before the season even started, because we knew that if I got into it, I just wouldn’t want to stop.
“I told the girls about halfway through the season, mostly because (BHS) was posting the job (opening). I’d wanted to wait until the end of the season. So I told the girls and told my coaches. It was very, very challenging to tell them because I genuinely would, under different circumstances, have never given up that job.”
And under those circumstances, Bayfield’s opponents continued to be impressed by the Wolverines.
“I think Josh has done a great job with the Bayfield girls. It’s been a rough season for all of us, but he’s done an exceptional job in the situation that he was dealt,” Alamosa’s Shawn Cody said. “I was proud of how they responded; the Bayfield girls played really well.”
Kitchen said it will be hard to move on because of how much he loves the team and coaching. He’s proud of what was accomplished by his coaching staff through four seasons, and he didn’t close the door on a return to coaching down the road.
“It’s just so hard to think I’ve given up something we’d worked so hard for, but ultimately, I get to spend time with my daughter, and that’s way more significant in my life right now,” Kitchen said. “I’m hoping someday I can go back. But we’ll see where life takes us; it’s just right now trying to keep my priorities as straight as I can.”