December 04, 2012 | 04:30 PMWALWORTH — Mike Dowden was looking for a chance to come home.
The 2005 Big Foot graduate, who grew up in Walworth, was living in the Green Bay area with his wife, another Walworth native. The couple is expecting their first child, and Dowden wanted to move the family back to the area.
But Dowden was all set to teach at Green Bay Preble High School this fall and coach at nearby St. Norbert College. So when a math position opened at Big Foot in the summer, Dowden acted fast, reaching out to Athletic Director Tim Collins. Only a few weeks later, Dowden's wishes came true.
He got the teaching job and became the head girls varsity basketball coach. The 25-year-old former college player and coach couldn't be happier.
"I like being at the school and being in Walworth," Dowden said. "I'm excited about the program. I've bounced around quite a bit, and I'm happy to settle down."
Dowden, the son of longtime Big Foot basketball coach Dan, coached the youth program while in high school. He was an assistant coach for his dad during the 2009-10 season. Then, he played two years at point guard for Beloit College and St. Norbert College.
After his playing career, Dowden was an assistant coach for the Beloit College boys before his first head coaching position last year for the Coleman High School boys. Coleman posted a 5-18 mark in Dowden's only season.
This is his first season coaching girls.
"It will be interesting," Dowden said. "The biggest difference coaching girls is I'm not going to tell them what to do every step of the way. The boys wanted to do the individual stuff, but I want the girls to do more on an individual basis."
Dowden inherits a Lady Chief squad that could be in rebuilding mode. Big Foot lost 10 players to graduation and only welcomes back three.
Senior guard Jen Petkoff, the team's leading returning scorer, tore her ACL in June and is returning to practice this week. Dowden hopes Petkoff will be at full strength by Christmas.
The other two returners are seniors Danielle Young and Molly Kovarik.
"Our three seniors have to be the leaders," Dowden said. "Everybody is looking at them. They have to flourish in that role. We have a lot of inexperience right now."
Key newcomers will include sophomore Kathryn Colby and freshman Morgan Courier, both of whom will start. Also, juniors Kristen Glade and McKenna Skerhutt along with sophomore Ally Mazur complete an eight-girl rotation.
Dowden said juniors Hannah Ripkey, Natalie Boldger and Schyler Isham will also get playing time.
Dowden wants to take advantage of his team's athleticism this season.
"We are hoping to play a full-court, man-to-man defense," he said. "We want to pressure the ball. Our talent level isn't high, but athleticism is our strength. I love to run and push the ball on offense. It is sometimes chaotic. We are in the early stages of the learning process. But the girls have to buy into the uptempo game."
Dowden said he wants his team clicking by January, and the athleticism will take over. He wants the program to become feared.
"I want to set a tone for where the program's going," he said. "We want schools to see us on the schedule and worry about playing us. Also, we want to show what's expected of a Big Foot player."
Big Foot will try to improve on last year's 5-18 record. Dowden said Brodhead and Clinton should contend in the Rock Valley South, but his girls can fight for third place.
Big Foot (2-1) returns home Thursday to face Parkview.
"I feel good about our team," Dowden said. "We must play hard every night to compete. We'll make you work."
On Friday at home against Palmyra-Eagle, the Chiefs picked up a 42-37 victory.
After scoring only two points in the first quarter and nine in the first half, the Chiefs turned it on in the second half.
"At halftime, I just told them to play," Dowden said. "I loved our intensity in the second half. We got after it."
Kovarik led the girls with 11 points. Glade notched 10 rebounds.
On Nov. 27 at Beloit Turner, Big Foot fell in a blowout, 52-35. Dowden said it wasn't a good game across the board.
The day before at home against South Beloit, Ill., Kovarik's 23 points and 13 rebounds led the Chiefs to a 61-40 win.
Courier and Skerhutt each added eight points.