High School Sports

One coach, two teams: How Covenant’s year with Chambless led to state basketball titles

Special to the Telegraph

Matt Chambless needed a glass of water.

Covenant’s girls basketball team just won a thrilling overtime game over Sherwood Christian Academy for the school’s second-ever basketball championship.

Emotions ran high, capping a 27-4 season. But Chambless couldn’t celebrate too much yet. He had another game on the schedule: the Covenant boys team.

“I don’t think I let my mind fully go to full celebration mode, honestly,” Chambless said. “It was a great, great moment. And you try to celebrate in that moment, and we did … But then it’s a very fast turnaround.”

Twenty to thirty minutes, to be exact. That’s how long Chambless had from the final buzzer of the girls title to the opening tip of the boys championship game.

“You just have to refocus and you have to kind of put it to the side and forget what just happened and focus on what you had in front of you,” Chambless said. “I just kind of tried to get away by myself for a second on the bench.”

Shifting gears wasn’t a foreign concept to Chambless. He’d been doing it all season.

Chambless filled the role of head basketball coach for both the girls and boys Covenant teams this season after the school’s girls coach stepped down to have her second child.

It was feasible to coach both teams since they play on the same nights, back to back. Chambless did so with flying colors, leading the girls to a title and the boys to their first-ever title, finishing the season 25-5.

“(He is) definitely the best coach in our league,” said junior point guard Ethan Abbott. “He’s always prepared. He’s always ready.”

Which is saying something, considered Chambless has to prepare for two games every night.

Girls senior Kara Bedingfield said she could tell Chambless put in over 100 percent effort with each team, sometimes staying up until midnight doing game film and game prepping.

“When you love doing something and you have a passion for doing it, it was easy to do,” Chambless said. “There are no shortcuts to success. I knew we couldn’t split the amount of preparation time.”

And success Covenant had. Each team won its preseason tournament, regular-season region title, region championship and state championship.

Chambless said there were concerns initially whether he could handle the load. Abbott said he wasn’t sure how it would work because the team wouldn’t really have Chambless in the locker room for pre-game preparations.

But Abbott and Chambless praised the team’s assistant coaches for helping during that process, and Abbott said pre-game ultimately wasn’t as important because Chambless prepared the team so well before that point.

“He’s committed to us,” Abbott said. “He’s willing to do whatever it takes to make us better men, better basketball players.”

Covenant’s boys and girls basketball teams developed a family relationship throughout the season.

When the girls played, the boys team would sit in the stands and cheer on the girls, and the girls would do the same for the boys. They shared bus rides. They build each other up, then break each other down like typical teenagers do in a joking fashion, Abbott said.

“We’re like brothers and sisters,” Bedingfield said. “Both the guys and the girls teams are really a family. We all talk to each other all the time.”

Chambless said each year the program picks a Bible verse to focus on throughout the season. Bedingfield said this year’s was Romans 12:9-12, which helped the team focus on loving one another as brothers and sisters.

As a senior, Bedingfield said she tried to embody that loving attitude as a teammate and leader. Chambless wanted the players to think about honoring others over themselves.

“In essence, what we were really trying to get after this year was, ‘Can we really learn to love each other?’” Chambless said. He added that the boys team also took on the phrase “don’t waste it.”

Abbott and Bedingfield attributed some of their chemistry to sharing the same coach. It’s a model that few teams deploy. Chambless said he doesn’t know if it’s a pattern that everybody would want to follow.

“It’s probably difficult to do. But it certainly worked for us this year,” Chambless said. “It was just a very special, special year. (I) don’t know when you’re going to see something like that happen with both programs at the same time.”

Chambless said Covenant doesn’t have plans to hire another head coach to split up the duties.

“It would be hard not to (coach both),” Chambless said. “At this point I have such a special bond with the guys programs and the girls program. And it worked. This year was kind of a proof of concept.”

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