Coach Fowler

Sarah Fowler, who resigned as Belgrade's head coach after three seasons at the helm, reacts to a call during the 2017 divisional tournament in Billings.

Following three seasons at the helm, which included a pair of appearances at the State A tournament, Sarah Fowler has resigned as head coach of the girls basketball team at Belgrade.

Fowler informed her returning players Sunday, and Belgrade Activities Director Rick Phillips planned to begin advertising for the position this week.

“We’ll try to fill it as soon as possible. Timing’s difficult,” said Phillips. “Ideally we’d like to hire a teacher. It’s always best, in my opinion, to have somebody’s that’s involved in the school system that can talk to kids and be available for kids throughout the day to kind of mingle with them as a student and an athlete.”

It was the second stint as head coach for Fowler, who also guided the Panthers for five seasons in the early 2000’s. But the majority of her success came over the past three years after Belgrade had endured back-to-back losing seasons.

The Panthers advanced to the state tournament in 2017 and 2018, and then got off to a 7-3 start this past season before the campaign was derailed by injuries.

Belgrade finished with a 14-11 mark in 2017, and Fowler guided the team to a third place finish at the divisional tournament en route to qualifying for state. The team also reached the state semifinals for just the second time as a Class A program.

“She really just kind of put the pieces together to have success and the kids liked her and she’s in the school system. Just kind of the right piece at the right time to kind of take the talent that we had and meld it together to bring us some success,” said Phillips. “She did exactly what we were hoping she would do which was to get the program back on track.”

While the program makes the leap to AA this year, Fowler noted the future is bright.

“I feel like there’s a good class of sophomores and a good class of freshmen that I was just in West Yellowstone with on Saturday that I think in a year or two are going to be real good,” she said. “So I feel really good about the kids coming up in the program. They might take some bumps next year, but I feel like after that they’re going to be fine.”

It was a gut-wrenching decision for Fowler, who plans to continue her duties as an assistant volleyball coach, to step down.

Her daughter, Dylan, wrapped up a stellar volleyball career at the University of Montana-Western last fall and Fowler rarely witnessed her play in person due to coaching commitments.

With her son, Dawson, expected to be a key component this year as a red shirt basketball player at the University of Providence in Great Falls, Fowler wants to be in the stands.

“I missed some of Dylan’s career during the volleyball season and I feel like I don’t want to miss Dawson’s too,” Fowler said. “And comparing the schedules it was pretty much half that overlapped. If it were a couple games I would think about it, but half the schedule is a lot.”

While Fowler’s departure caught many off guard, Phillips had been planning for the possibility.

“It was a bomb for everybody else,” he said. (But) this was something that I was kind of expecting. She was hoping to try and make it work.”

Fowler didn’t want to leave the program in limbo over the summer, so she coached at various tournaments and recently ran the team’s annual camp. But, she noted, family comes first.

“I just felt like it was time for me to make a decision to put my kids first,” she said.

Phillips hopes to fill the position quickly with the school year slated to begin at the end of August and open gyms in October.

“The sooner the better so that we can complete the rest of the staff. Because I let the head coaches hire their assistants and that usually takes a little bit of time,” Phillips said. “If we could have it in place by the end of August that would be great, and then that gives time for the other (assistant coach) and get that hired in September. And then the staff can get together and kind of put their plan in place and be ready for open gyms to start in October.”