Vandahl picked as head coach
Steamboat Springs — Michael Vandahl was a sensation on the court during his years on the Steamboat Springs High School boys basketball team.
Now he’s hoping to provide the same spark to the program from the bench.
Vandahl was announced Friday as the new head coach of the team, seven years after he played his last game for it and two seasons since he returned as an assistant coach.
“It’s really an honor,” he said. “I’m humbled and honor to have a chance to come back and coach were I played. It means a lot to me. The program does, and the community, as well.”
He replaces Luke DeWolfe, who announced in May he was stepping aside after seven seasons as head coach. DeWolfe, who won 99 games in his run at the top, was an assistant under Kelly Meek during Vandahl’s final season.
DeWolfe, who will stay on as the school’s athletic director and assistant principal, wasn’t on a committee established to find a new head coach, but he wasn’t surprised to discover the decision that group had reached.
“There’s a lot of difference between being an assistant and a head coach, but he’s ready to make that jump,” DeWolfe said. “Xs and Os wise, he’s more than qualified. He’s a smart kid and understands the game, what he needs to do and how to relate to people.
“Mike will be a great fit and will be a great coach.”
Vandahl graduated from Steamboat in 2008, completing a masterful run with the program. He averaged 17 points a game as a senior, helped lead his team to 30 consecutive Western Slope league victories, was named the league player of the year as a senior and was runner-up for that honor as a junior.
He went on to a successful college career, starting at University of Denver where he walked on as a freshman. He spent two more years at University of Nebraska-Kearney and finished up with two seasons, one redshirting, at Western State Colorado University.
“His work ethic is beyond reproach,” Meek said. “I can’t tell you how many phone calls I got to meet up at the gym early in the morning or late at night — non-stop 1 on 0 workouts — beyond what he was doing with his teammates, so much that others didn’t even know about.”
Meek coached Vandahl at Steamboat, then again as an assist at Western State, and said he saw the same player throughout.
“The year he had to sit out at Western State, that was the perfect example,” Meek said. “Oh my gosh. He called me non-stop, and we worked. I’d feed him shots. He’d work on handling, moving, individual situations and moves to get his shot off. He wasn’t a great ball handler, but he worked on his skills and became a very good one because of all of the time he spent in the gym.”
He was distinguished throughout his career by his hard work, his competitiveness and his focus.
“The attributes that made Mike a great player are a lot of the things that make him a great coach,” DeWolfe said.
Ready to work
Vandahl came back to Steamboat after finishing up at Western State, then was quickly recruited to be the junior varsity coach by DeWolfe.
Learning to coach took some adjustment.
“It’s very different than playing. It tests your patience,” he said. “You’re not out there controlling everything on the floor. You have to convey your thoughts to your team and make sure they know what you want going on.”
He’s unlikely to coach many players who put the kind of hours into the sport he did, and he said that’s something he’s learned to keep in mind in his two years as an assistant.
“Everybody is different,” he said. “You have to learn to motivate people in different ways.”
But, when the head coaching position came open, he had no doubt he wanted to follow Meek and DeWolfe in the line of Steamboat head coaches. He thanked them, his parents, his family, his friends and others who have helped him in getting this point, and he eagerly applied.
He takes over a team in transition, one that graduates four of its top five scorers, but that doesn’t phase him.
He’s been the same guy at every place basketball has taken him, and he plans on being that as head coach in Steamboat Springs, too.
He’s optimistic, focused and ready to work hard.
“If we put in the work over the summer, we have a chance to be successful,” he said. “It all depends on what we do between now and the start of the season. Basketball players, they play in the winter time, but they’re made in the summer time.”
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