Steamboat basketball coach named 2019 Western Slope Coach of the Year
March 1, 2019
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — After every game, Michael Vandahl emerges from the locker room with an iPad listing the stats of his team and individual players.
The Steamboat Springs Sailors could win, and Vandahl will still find intricate details of the game that need fixing. He’s only hard on them because he knows what they’re capable of.
There were times when the Sailors lost, and Vandahl notes how heavily they had scouted the opponent, so there’s little room to excuse allowing a player to score so many 3-pointers. But there were also times when the Sailors lost, and he’d say they fought hard, or “that’s just how playoff basketball is,” like he did Wednesday against Pueblo East.
The loss to Pueblo East stung just like it had when he was a senior 11 years ago, leading the Sailors to a Sweet 16 appearance. It’s not coincidental that Vandahl once again led a team that won 21 games, even if it was from the sidelines this time.
Leading the Sailors to a Western Slope League title and their first Sweet 16 appearance since 2008 is what earned Michael Vandahl the 2019 Western Slope League Coach of the Year award.
“Teams are a natural reflection of their coach,” Steamboat Springs High School Athletic Director Luke DeWolfe said. “If they're having fun, they're learning throughout the course of the year. Then, the byproduct of that is you have successful programs.”
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DeWolfe was the Sailors varsity head coach from 2009 to 2015 but was the C team coach during Vandahl’s senior year. He’s seen Vandahl as both a player and a coach, taking him in as his assistant during the 2013-14 season.
“Watching Michael as a player is very much like watching Michael as a coach,” DeWolfe said. “He’s very calm and collected, but at the same time, a fierce, fierce competitor who was always driven to be the best he can be. Michael wasn't necessarily the most athletic player but outworked 99 percent of other kids in the state of Colorado.”
Vandahl studied business in college and didn’t plan on coaching, but he never ruled it out.
“I came back to Steamboat to save some money — never got the chance to travel or study abroad, so I just saved money and backpacked in Europe,” Vandahl said. “Luke talked me into helping him out, and I got hooked on it. As a player, everyone will tell you that you don't think much past next weekend, but I'm thankful that I've been able to coach where I play. It's pretty special.”
Vandahl was the easy choice for the head coaching position four years ago when DeWolfe left the post and took over as athletic director. As a coach, Vandahl maintains a business-like temperament and continues to study the game from every angle.
“Our kids naturally looked up to Michael, and our kids had grown up watching him,” DeWolfe said. “His knowledge of the game is phenomenal. When he was a player, he really was a coach on the court. It was a real easy progression. It was great to have somebody who had gone away from the program and bring that back.”
In college, Vandahl enjoyed stints at the University of Denver, Nebraska-Kearney and Western Colorado. As a Sailor, Vandahl was named Player of the Year in 2008, averaging 18.5 points per game and leading the state in free throws with a 90.6 percent efficiency.
“He's so driven, he would get in the way of himself,” said Sailors head coach Kelly Meek, who was the Sailors’ head basketball coach from 1972 to 2008. “I would have to pull him over in a game and tell him to just relax. He wants things to go perfect all the time — it's his strength and his weakness — and that's mine. He's the way I was.”
Vandahl says goodbye to a senior class he has coached since its freshman year. Seeing transformation is what he loves most about coaching basketball, but the growth he doesn’t pay attention to is his own — from player to coach of the year of his hometown team.
“It's humbling, I guess,” Vandahl said. “I just think it kind of belongs to a lot of people, like the coaching staff and the players.”
When asked if this senior class will be the most special, Vandahl sticks to a playbook response.
“I don’t know,” Vandahl said. “I’ll treat them all the same.”