W.F. West Tabs New Girls Basketball Coach

Forward Pivot: Kyle Karnofski Slides Over from Boys Bench to Replace Tom Kelly

By Jordan Nailon

jnailon@chronline.com

After four years of running-and-gunning their opponents to maximum effect under the thumb of Tom Kelly the W.F. West girls basketball now has a new coach at the helm.

On Tuesday W.F. West athletic director Jeff Johnson confirmed the rumblings that have been circulating around the Mint City for weeks now — Kelly is out on the Bearcat bench and Kyle Karnofski has been promoted from the second seat on the boys basketball bench to the captain’s chair for the girls squad.

Johnson noted that he and Kelly spoke about the decision to change directions shortly after the season ended and Karnofski was officially tabbed as the new head coach on Friday.

Johnson added that the decision to officially appoint Karnofski last week was made with the impending summer league season in mind. He noted that Karnofski has already met with the returning players and the two were in the middle of scheduling summer games on Tuesday afternoon.

When rumors of Kelly’s departure from W.F. West first began to churn the old coach declined to comment other than to say that he believed Johnson had “a plan in place.” It appears that turning the program over to Karnofski was part of that plan all along.

“Four years ago we brought in people. (Karnofski) was one of them who interviewed right out of college and just blew us all away but we just felt like, gosh do we want a guy right out of college to run a perennial state team and the dynamics of that,” explained Johnson. “With experience, there’s just so much value in sitting on the bench and come along to see some of the stuff besides X’s and O’s and Sundays in a gym. Just the whole periphery of school ball and the community and the whole thing.”

Johnson noted that Karnofski, a 2009 graduate of Castle Rock, is an English teacher in the school who grew up the son of an athletic director so he is familiar with the ins and outs of prep sports. Moreover, the head coach of the Castle Rock varsity girls basketball program is Karnofski’s mother, Kim.

“I grew up around girls basketball,” pointed out Karnofski. “I used to go to my moms practices when I was a kid after school. I’ve been in the gym my whole life and just sort of had that coaches mindset.”

Karnofski has served as an assistant to head coach Chris White with the boys basketball program at W.F. West for four years including serving as the head coach of the junior varsity team. Before getting into prep coaching he was a five-year program guy with the Saint Martin’s men’s basketball team. It’s Karnofski’s belief that his years learning the ropes with the boys team will pay dividends during his first go round as a head honcho.

“I learned a lot under Coach White. He’s a great guy. Really passionate, and that’s one of the things I respect about him the most,” Karnofski said. “I’m super grateful. It’s a great school. Great program. Great community support. I’m really excited to get started.”

Neither Johnson or Karnofski provided any hint as to who might wind up filling the now vacant spot on the boys’ bench. However, for those close to the situation the promotion of Karnofski is unlikely to come as much of a surprise.

“We were ecstatic with what we heard four years ago and obviously had a hawkeye on him in the gym these past four years,” admitted Johnson. “I asked Coach White when did you know Kyle was a varsity coach and he said about the second week into practice four years ago.”

The development didn’t even seem to come as a surprise to Tom Kelly, which is surprising when you consider his track record. In his final three seasons at W.F. West the old coach brought home one state title, a third place finish and a top eight finish. His first year in charge the Bearcats missed out on the state tournament by one game when they lost in the regional round of the playoffs. Kelly believes that if injuries had not derailed the Bearcats from the jump last season that team likely would have brought home their own state gold ball for the trophy case.

“It was good times. We won a lot of games. We played a lot of ball together in the offseason. Whether it was high school ball or AAU, you know, June ball or school ball, we went a lot of places the four years that I was there and it was fun,” Kelly said on Wednesday. “We scored a lot of points. Our style of play equated to a lot of points and people like to play that way. Everyone has liked that everywhere I’ve been.”

Kelly noted that since his time at W.F. West ended earlier this spring he has already found a new home as head coach of the Timberline High School girls basketball program in Lacey. He says he was interested in coming back for another go in Chehalis but it didn’t turn out to be part of Johnson’s plan.

“When I interviewed for the job (Johnson) said, ‘How long are going going to be here?’ and I said three. He said ‘How many can you guarantee?’ and I said three. From that point he had a plan that there was this young coach that he wanted to bring in. After three years I won a state title and he didn’t want to end on that so then we went again,” explained Kelly.

After this season ended Kelly says he found himself wondering what the right move would be. In the end the decision didn’t turn out to be his to make.

“I was thinking of resigning but I didn’t want to because of the three seniors that are back,” noted Kelly. “But (Johnson) said ‘What are you going to do, coach until you’re 90?’ And I said, ya maybe I might. He thought I might leave when I won a state title with my granddaughter. But I don’t just coach to coach my family. Even with my daughters, when they graduated, I just kept coaching. That’s what I do. I’m a basketball coach.”

All that said, Kelly doesn’t sound at all bitter about the way his tenure ended in the Mint City.

“No hard feelings with W.F. West at all. Parents are parents wherever you go but no, there’s none at all,” Kelly explained. “The girls that I had at W.F. West, during those four years, they were never late. They never talked back. They were just a coach’s dream is what they were. I just can’t say enough good things about them.”

Kelly added that if he was a young coach looking for a place to succeed he’d be hard pressed to find a situation more suitable than the one at W.F. West.

“It’s a good one to take if you want to win. He’s got a team that should win a state title, barring injures. That’s a big expectation,” said Kelly. “I wouldn’t want to heap that sort of expectation on a young coach.”

As Karnofski prepares to fill Kelly’s shoes on the Bearcats’ sideline he says he’s trying not to let the chatter in the community distract him from his task at hand.

“Tom has a lot of wins and that’s really respectable but I’m just here to coach basketball and coach the girls. I wasn’t going to publicize anything. I wasn’t going to post it anywhere I’m just here to coach basketball and keep the Chehalis tradition going,” Karnofski said.

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