By Dan Kelly EBS Contributor

BIG SKY – Growing up in Columbia Falls, Montana, a few miles from Whitefish, Austin Barth knew early on he wanted to be a coach. A standout athlete for the Columbia Falls Wildcats in both football and basketball, he began as a camp coach for youth in his community to help them improve and develop their skills.

“Coaching really started for me in high school working those camps,” Barth said. “I found that passion for trying to help other people out.”

Playing basketball for iconic coach Cary Finberg at Columbia Falls, he and his teammates played in three state championships during his high school career, winning the state title in 2011. An All-State athlete in football as well as basketball for the Wildcats, Barth would join the Montana State University football team as a tight end in 2013. Barth continued his work at MSU football camps throughout his time as a Bobcat, while earning a teaching degree.

He remembers his English teacher from Columbia Falls, E.J. Horner, telling him “you are going to be a teacher someday, just watch.” She turned out to be right. After graduating from MSU this past spring, Barth began teaching middle school science and social studies at Ophir School, as well as working as an assistant coach for the Lone Peak High School football team. This season is his first at the helm of the Big Horns varsity basketball team.

“I want to set the culture that we are going to give 100 percent or it’s not going to be good enough,” Barth said. “We have to go out and attack every team.”

Looking to emphasize an up-tempo offense paired with hard-nosed, suffocating defense, Barth and the Big Horns are focused on forcing other teams to make mistakes with the ball. In addition to these on-court goals, Barth recognizes the importance of a coach being a mentor to his players, and making sure they excel both on and off the court.

Barth is joined by assistant coaches John Hannahs and Brian Van Eps, who will help implement high pressure defensive tactics such as the half-court trap, while building Big Horn shooters’ confidence to make tough shots with authority.

“If you can have great defense, that is going to take you places down the road,” Barth said. “We want to be a fast team, a ‘green light’ team where every kid has that confidence to take their shot.”

This approach to the hardcourt has been met with enthusiasm by the Big Horn players, who are off to a strong start this season, winning four out of their first six games. As the old adage goes, “defense wins championships,” and the Lone Peak Big Horns forced 51 turnovers in a recent game, putting pressure on opponents who struggled to move the ball against their high intensity defense. Paired with a fast and aggressive offensive style, the Big Horns will continue to be a team to watch in Barth’s inaugural season as head coach.

After a gritty road win on Dec. 22, the Big Horns stand at 4-2 with an upcoming game against a physical Twin Bridges team on Friday, Jan. 5, at Lone Peak High School. The following week, on Jan. 11, they host West Yellowstone at home, one of five games in a pivotal two weeks that includes away games at Sheridan and Ennis.

For a complete season schedule visit bssd72.org.