Courtesy of NMSU
LAS CRUCES, N.M. – Newly crowned Western Athletic Conference Coach of the Year Mark Trakh has not only led the New Mexico State women’s basketball program to new heights this season, but has laid a foundation for continued success in the coming years.
Trakh, in his fourth season at the helm of the Aggie program, will lead his team to the WAC Tournament this week as the No. 1 seed after NM State clinched its first conference championship in 20 years. It is Trakh’s fourth outright conference title in his coaching career as he had three while at Pepperdine.
He becomes only the third coach in NM State women’s basketball history to win a conference coach of the year and the first since 1988 when Joe McKeown was tabbed the High Country Athletic Conference Coach of the Year.
“There is no one that deserves a coach of the year award more than coach Trakh,” said Aggie associate head coach Tamara Inoue. “He always works hard and prepares everybody around him, coaches and players, to be the best at what they do.”
Under Trakh, the Aggies also garnered the WAC Player of the Year in Brianna Freeman and had a total of three players make the All-WAC first team, the most conference first teamers since placing four, also in 1988.
NM State finished with a winning record in all games (20-7), WAC games (13-1), nonconference games (7-6), away games (7-4) and home games (12-2). After losing its first two home games, the team won its final 12 games inside the Pan American Center.
The Aggies finished with 20 wins for the first time since the 2007-08 season when they went 23-9. With the 20 wins, Trakh now has at least one 20-win season at all three universities he has been the head coach. He took both Pepperdine and Southern California to the NCAA Tournament during 20-win seasons there, something he hopes to achieve this season at NM State.
The 13-1 WAC record led the Aggies to their first conference title since joining the WAC in 2005. This season’s record also boasts the most wins and fewest losses since joining the WAC for NM State and is the second-best conference record in program history, only surpassed by a 10-0 record in the HCAC in that 1988 season.
This season’s squad and the 1988 one mirror each other in many ways. Both teams won their conference, had the coach and player of the year and had multiple players on the all-conference team. Trakh and the Aggies hope the resemblance continues as the 1988 squad was the last NM State women’s basketball team to make the NCAA Tournament.
The 13-1 WAC record is also Trakh’s best conference record in his collegiate coaching career. He coached Pepperdine to a 12-2 conference record in 2000 and 2003, both of those teams made the NCAA Tournament.
Other accomplishments Trakh has guided the Aggies to, a 12-game winning streak, tying the second-longest winning streak in program history, a seven-game road winning streak, also tying the second-longest such streak, the current home streak and nine-straight wins to start off WAC play, falling one short of the 10-0 record in 1988.
Accomplishments do come in part because of the talent on the team, but many teams have as much if not more talent than the Aggies, yet haven’t reached the height of the NM State squad this season. The things that separates those teams from Trakh’s, the coaches ability to bring a team together as a family, let each player figure out their role in that family and have them each have their own identity and style while still understanding that the group as a whole is always more important than any single member.
Trakh’s understanding of the significance of each individual player and putting each one of them in the best possible position to bring the utmost success to the team, more than anything, is what has earned NM State a championship and himself the coach of the year.
Yet, all these season’s accomplishments should not come as a surprise to those who have followed Trakh and his team since his first season in 2011. The head coach has done the same in both previous stops along the NCAA road.
Going from six wins in year one to 20 in year four is not something that happens overnight. It is a year-by-year process that has taken the Aggies from two eighth-place WAC finishes, to a tie for sixth a season ago, to their first-ever WAC championship.
But Trakh figured out a long time ago that turning a program around is not a one-person process, which is why he brought Inoue and one of his former players, Aarika Hughes, to Las Cruces since day one. This season he added former NM State player Cecilia Russell-Nava to the mix and what has developed is one of the best coaching staffs this region has ever seen.
“Coach Trakh has always believed and always trusted in me, as well as Aarika and Cecilia,” Inoue said. “He allows us to grow as professionals and gives us a lot of experience. Most importantly, and why I appreciate my years with coach, he truly cares about us as people.”
Trakh also knows the key to continued success is always looking ahead and always preparing for the future of the team. Although NM State has a young team that will return all but one player, including Freeman who is only a sophomore, Trakh has already netted a couple of big recruits that will join the Aggies next season.
Brooke Salas, a 5-10 all-star guard from California, will add even more depth to what is already a formidable group of guards. NM State will also add perhaps the one thing that it does not have this season, size. Recruit Jeneva Toilolo, a 6-3 forward from Hawai’i, will join 6-4 Tyesha Taylor, who redshirted this season, and make up what promises to be a strong frontcourt for the Aggies.
Four years into his tenure in Las Cruces, Trakh seems to finally have his team where he always knew it could be, atop the conference standings and now looking for a WAC Tournament championship to go along with it. The coach of the year has also set out a plan to keep his team at its present level for many years to come.
“Working with coach Trakh I completely understand why success follows him wherever he goes,” Inoue said. “Getting coach of the year is more than well deserved, we are all looking forward to the WAC Tournament in Las Vegas and can’t wait to see all our loyal fans out there.”