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The Life of a Coach

Former LCHS standout makes big move

By Colin Anderson

Those who followed Katie Baker’s career at Lake City High School remember one of the most dominant girls’ basketball players North Idaho has ever seen. A league MVP and three-time Gatorade National Player of the Year for the state of Idaho, Katie found her college fit at The University of Montana despite offers from several other Power Five conference schools. Her success continued in college as the Grizzlies’ leading scorer and rebounder most nights, and her statistics at Montana rank among the all-time program greats. She played professionally for a year overseas before deciding to come home to figure out the next chapter in her life.

Katie applied and was accepted to an advanced nursing program at Montana State University, but the itch to continue being involved in the game she loved just wouldn’t go away. Instead of pursuing a new career, she decided to give coaching a whirl and took an opportunity to get her foot in the door. “I moved to Colorado to coach at The University of Colorado-Colorado Springs for $8,000,” Katie recalled. Going from winning and well-respected programs to a small program with a small following, and needing to work a full time job on top of coaching to make ends meet, was a gut check for Katie. While that first year was bumpy, she realized that basketball was indeed her calling, and she began to search for other opportunities to further her experience. “I was emailing literally every program in the nation, ‘I’ll be your intern, your water girl, whatever you need,’” she said.

She got plenty of nos and a lot of “Yes, but we can’t pay you” responses. Eventually, Wisconsin reached out to her and offered her a full-time graduate assistant position. Katie spent a year seeing how a Big 10 program operated and was gearing up for another season when, like it often does in college athletics, the head coach was fired along with the rest of the staff. Because of all the contacts she’d previously made and reaching out to so many programs in her search for an opportunity, the next one didn’t take long to come in. “I was folding T-shirts at the arena basement when I got a text from Oregon State University, who had just been to the Final Four, and they wanted to interview me. It was crazy,” she recalled.

Katie remembers being grilled during the interview process and not having an answer to many of the questions. Still, she maintained her confidence that she could have a positive impact on the already successful program. “I told them ‘You need me. I’m going to be really good.’ And they ultimately gave me the job,” said Katie.

After five seasons at OSU, Katie (Baker) Faulkner now begins a new chapter of her coaching career at the University of Washington. She’s a full-time assistant coach and also the recruiting coordinator for a Husky program looking to return to prominence. While she was in a good spot with the Beavers, the Husky program offers her opportunities to expand her coaching knowledge and experience new perspectives. “I needed to see what was next and grow myself. This will be the first time in my career that I’ve ever coached with or played under a female coach, so I’m excited about that as well.”

Her role as a recruiter has been one of her primary focuses at each stop, but she’s been given the title formally at Washington. While there is a level of talent that has to be there, she is looking for several other factors when finding the next waves of Husky players. “You’ll need selflessness, to be ready for a four-year commitment of excellence, have extremely high character, as well as humility and accountability.”

As far as her coaching style, she’s one who wants to be demanding but not demeaning. She credits her high school coaches Darren Taylor and Royce Johnson for pushing her and showing her how to practice with energy, push teammates, but also respect the competition and each other. “I want to be professional and push my team but in a way that each player still feels value,” she explained.

Now married, Katie is excited to remain in the Northwest and near the area where she grew up. Her parents still live in Coeur d’Alene, her mom a teacher, and her father the director of Camp Lutherhaven. “We get back two to three times a year,” said Katie. “Growing up here (Coeur d’Alene), you really don’t appreciate it, but it really is a jewel.”

Katie and her husband will also be welcoming their first child later this month. “I get to learn to balance being a mom, wife and coach, so I’m definitely still growing as a person.”

Like many athletes, Katie found plenty of success as a player, but when her playing days were over, instant success wasn’t handed to her, and she had to continue to work for it. “For any job, you have to be willing to go anywhere and own your personal development. Learn to be humble and be willing enough to swallow your pride and take the opportunity.”

As Katie prepares for her first season with the program, she is ready to put her own stamp on it and have an impact on many young lives. “I love winning games and making a splash, but ultimately success in the long run is not just winning, it’s culture. Relationships are the foundation of coaching.”

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