Taylor Possail doesn’t get the kids’ musical taste nowadays, what with their Ne-Yos, Drakes and Taylor Swifts.
OK, so maybe the first-year Columbia College head women’s basketball coach does have a soft spot for Swift. And a secret one for the rest of his players’ music.
“He pretends not to like the rappers, but he really likes them,” Cougars sophomore forward Raegan Wieser said.
“We play it in the locker room and he opens his door so he can hear it,” sophomore guard Jordan Alford added.
Regardless, things were different when Possail was getting his degree at Winona State University in Minnesota. You know, all the way back in 2012.
“The funny thing is I do like their music, but I never tell them that,” Possail said. “You’ve got to keep them guessing a little bit.”
The 28-year-old Possail doesn’t exactly fit the stereotype of a collegiate head coach. He’s less than a decade older than most of his players and can commiserate with the sorts of challenges faced by college students in the 2010s.
His three years on the Cougars’ staff as former coach Jessica Keller’s assistant, a period in which the team posted a 75-24 record, showed Columbia College Athletic Director Bob Burchard all he needed to know when Keller took an assistant coaching post at NCAA Division I school Illinois State in April.
Burchard hired Possail to succeed Keller, which was welcome news to the Cougars’ players. Even if it did raise a few eyebrows around the NAIA.
“It comes off as a compliment,” Possail said. “This program is so well-known and well-run, lot of history and tradition here at Columbia College.”
Possail got his first basketball coaching job at 19 years old. By 23, he was head coach of the girls basketball team at Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton High School in Janesville, Minn.
He had previously worked with Keller at Minnesota State-Mankato and, when Burchard hired Keller to run the Columbia College women’s basketball program before the 2014-15 season, Possail told her that he’d love to come along as assistant coach.
Possail had never even been on campus when he took the job.
“I couldn’t be more happy with that decision,” said Possail, who earned NAIA Assistant Coach of the Year honors after last season. “It took some risk, obviously, but it paid off.”
Possail plans to play a more uptempo brand of basketball than Keller, one in which the Cougars try to wring as many possessions as they can out of a game. The goal is to get a bunch of looks at the basket, and Possail believes his team has the shooters to fit his high-volume style.
The Cougars return five players who shot at least 36 percent from 3-point range last year: Alford, Wieser, sophomore Grey Hayes, junior Sarah Walters and junior Ashlee Marlatt, who ranked 24th in the NAIA last year with 74 3-pointers and 34th with a 38.1 3-point percentage.
“If we get going and all of us are making it, it’s going to be really hard to stop us,” Alford said. “All of us can shoot it. That’s going to be hard to defend.”
Columbia College is ranked No. 16 in the nation to start the year and brings back 92 percent of its scoring from last season and honorable mention All-Americans in Marlatt and Morgan Brandt.
Alford is also back healthy after missing the final two months last season with a knee injury. She led the team in scoring at 14.5 points per game before the injury.
“It’s almost the same team (as last year),” Wieser said. “We’re gelling well right now, and this is only the very beginning of the season. I’m excited to see where we’ll be in just a couple more weeks. I think we’ll be playing really well.”
Possail realizes the dynamic between he and the players has changed a bit. So he has made it a point to stress that, even though his title has changed, he’s still the same person that he was as an assistant for the past three years.
“We spend so much time together that they end up being like sisters,” Possail said. “You know how family is: Sometimes you get along, sometimes you’re not getting along but, at the end of the day, you always have each other’s back. That’s why we talk about family quite often. It really keeps us as a close-knit group and keeps that cohesiveness that we’re looking for.”
Possail was in charge on the sidelines for the first time at Columbia College as his team played host to the Cougars vs. Cancer Tip-Off Classic on Nov. 3-4. The Cougars scored 84 points a game in wins over Mount Mercy University and Culver-Stockton College.
He’s 2-0 in his collegiate head coaching career. But the players still get to pick the pre-game music.
“Even if I don’t like it, I will suffer for the team,” Possail said, with a laugh.
Read below for quick preview information on the Columbia College men’s and women’s basketball teams.
Preseason Ranking — No. 7
Head Coach — Bob Burchard (30th season)
2016-17 Record: 27-6, 19-3 AMC; NAIA Tournament 2nd Round
Preseason Ranking — No. 16
Head Coach — Taylor Possail (first season)
2016-17 Record: 26-7, 19-5 AMC; NAIA Tournament 1st Round