High school basketball: Stouder ends long run at Carson

Published 12:01 am Saturday, May 13, 2023

By Mike London


CHINA GROVE — Brooke Stouder attended a soccer match on Thursday.

Unfortunately, her favorite soccer player, 7-year-old Hadley Misenheimer, Stouder’s niece and goddaughter, was mad at her.

Stouder was Hadley’s favorite basketball coach in the world before she turned in her resignation this past week.

For the first time since Jesse Carson High opened, the Cougars will have to find a new head basketball coach.

“Hadley was a little upset with me when her parents broke the news to her that I was resigning,” Stouder said. “She’s been a regular at our practices. She comes to all the games. Carson girls basketball has been a very big part of her young life.”

It goes without saying that Carson girls basketball also has been a big part of Stouder’s life.

She was a special athlete in high school at East Rowan, an outstanding cross country and track and field runner and four-year varsity basketball player for coach Gina Talbert, graduating in 2000.

She was a smart enough hooper to carve out a supporting role for Pfeiffer basketball when the Falcons had some talented and terrific Angie Morton-coached teams. She graduated with the Class of 2004.

Stouder knew by the time she was 12 years old that she wanted to coach basketball as an adult, and she was coaching the South Stanly High jayvee program not long after her playing days ended.

Carson was opening for business in the fall of 2006. and Stouder put in an application for girls basketball coach. She didn’t expect to get very far in the interview process, but Henry Kluttz, Carson’s first principal, had been at West Rowan and he’d had a chance to observe not only how well Stouder played the game but how she conducted herself while playing it.

Kluttz hired her to lead the first group of varsity Cougars, an assortment of players from an assortment of schools.

“I was 23 years old with one year of jayvee coaching experience, so Mr. Kluttz had no reason to hire me,” Stouder said. “But he believed in me and gave me an opportunity that was life-changing. I’ll forever be grateful.”

In those early years, fans wondered how Stouder could maintain her calm demeanor and sanity as the losses piled up. The Cougars played hard, but they weren’t as talented as the squads they were up against. After her first three seasons, they were 4-47.

“One win, one win, then two wins,” Stouder said. “I had always believed very strongly that I had been called to coach, that coaching is where I needed to be, but you start to wonder when you’re losing as much as we were. But that fourth season, Chloe Monroe was a sophomore and Allison Blackwell, Kelly Dulkoski and Tyesha Phillips were freshmen, and we won 11 games.”

The next season, the Cougars won 18.

By the 2011-12 season, the Cougars could put a stout and seasoned lineup of Monroe, Dulkoski, Blackwell, Phillips and Sarrah Holman on the floor, with Alex Allen, Kate Cole and Katherine Barringer supporting them. The Cougars were 23-4, tied for first in the North Piedmont Conference and they won by 27 points on an average night. That team won the program’s first conference championship.

By 2017-18, Olivia Gabriel and McKenzie Gadson were leading the Cougars to their first Christmas tournament title, multiple playoff wins and a 25-4 record.

That 2017-18 season also marked the arrival of a freshmen class that included Carleigh Perry, Colbie Perry, Ellie Wilhelm and Lani Isley, and you probably remember how that turned out.

Carson started winning conference championships every year. That group’s run ended as  seniors with an undefeated state championship season in 2020-21. That was the COVID-shortened season, so Carson only got to play 19 games. If they’d played 50, they would’ve gone 50-0. They were that good. They didn’t have any Division I individuals, but they were one of the great collective teams in county history.

“So many great girls and so many great players and fantastic, dedicated assistant coaches were the reason we went from winning one game a year to winning a state championship,” Stouder said. “No coach has ever done it without players and assistants. We had a number of great teams.”

There would be one more great team — an unexpected one. The year after that special Class of 2021 graduated, the Cougars went 25-4 with Mary Spry, Hannah Isley and a supporting cast of girls who hadn’t played much or who had been focusing on other sports. Carson achieved a No. 1 ranking in 3A and won four playoff games.

“We were undersized for a very long time, but then we got Mary, and she was the first 6-footer we’d ever had,” Stouder said. “I had hoped we could win half our games that season, but a lot of girls came through, and we ended up winning championships. That was one of the most gratifying seasons. Winning five conference championships in a row, considering the leagues we were competing in, that was very special.”

With Spry heading to Catawba and Isley to Pfeiffer, Carson started over in 2022-23. The Cougars took their lumps. There was a lot of payback for years of dominance. Carson went 3-21.

“We won three games, and that was OK,” Stouder said. “You hope that every team you coach can reach its potential, and I think that team did the best that it could do. We competed well on a lot of nights. Girls improved. Allie Martin, our only returner, averaged 1.3 points as a freshman and she jumped to 12.4 as a sophomore. She had 32 points and 16 rebounds in our last game.”

So why step down now, now that the worst is in the rearview mirror. Carson was so young an inexperienced in 2022-23, that 2023-24 has to be at least somewhat better.

“I still enjoy every aspect of coaching basketball,” Stouder said. “The competition, the teamwork, the preparation for games, the practices — I still love every facet of it. But I think this is the right time for the program to have a change.”

Stouder became a mother for the first time about three years ago and started taking some steps back from the grind of school and basketball. While she continued to coach the basketball team, she stepped down two years ago from her job at Carson as a counselor and intervention specialist.

“I wasn’t going to miss anything with my daughter as she grew up,” Stouder said. “So I don’t regret that decision at all. But I think it’s important for Carson’s team now to have a coach who is at the school. Getting to know the girls at school is where you start building those all-important relationships, and I think we’ve missed some of that since I left counseling. I’ve prayed about this a great deal, and I think now is the right time to step down. It was a very difficult decision for me, but once I made it, I believe with all my heart that it’s the right one.”

Just about every coach will tell you it’s all about the relationships and not the wins and losses, but as far as the scorebooks, Stouder turned in a Hall of Fame career.

Her 263 wins in 17 seasons rank second all-time for Rowan County girls coaches. Jesse Watson, who coached East Rowan for 19 seasons, amassed 324 wins.

Stouder’s record is 263-183, so her teams won 59 percent of the time. After that 4-47 start, the Cougars won 66 percent of their games over a 14-season stretch. They were respected for a very long time as one of 3A’s best programs, and Stouder was respected as one of the classier coaches.

A four-time Rowan County Coach of the Year, Stouder led Carson to six regular-season conference championships and four conference tournament titles.

“I think our teams always played hard, played good defense and were fundamentally sound,” Stouder said. “The support was always there from our administration and from our fans whether we won one game or we won them all.  Girls basketball always was a source of pride for our school, and I think every girl who ever put on that uniform can look back on those days and be proud that she played for the Cougars.”

What’s next for Stouder? Well, more time with her husband and daughter and more of her niece’s soccer games, to start with.

But she also hasn’t ruled out a return to coaching at some point. She’s not far past 40, and that fire for competition could start burning again in a few years.