It may be a tall task for the new head girls basketball coach at Butte High School, but a lack of height won’t daunt Liza Dennehy.
Dennehy, a 1979 graduate of Butte High, was selected on Wednesday by a search committe to lead the program after a successful 10-year run by Jeff Arntson, who resigned early last week.
Unless a special meeting is called prior, Dennehy’s hiring is pending approval at the July 15 school board meeting.
For Dennehy, she takes the reins of a program that went to the Class AA semifinals last winter and will have to overcome the loss of three key seniors with a roster that will be mostly guard-sized at almost every spot on the floor.
“We’ll be looking to implement an extreme up-tempo system based on a fast but controllable pace on both ends of the floor,” Dennehy said. “To state the obvious, even very talented players will tire in an up-tempo game and we’ll be looking to force other teams to play much faster than they’re used to.”
She hopes to crank the game to a 94-foot track meet played on hardwood for the full 32 minutes.
“You can pretty effectively equalize competition and counter any perceived deficiencies in athleticism,” Dennehy said.
“We have some good athletes returning. Good speed and some good shooters.”
In order to keep the decade-long run of success going — the program went to eight state finals in 10 years and made the championship game twice under Arntson — Dennehy will put her charges to work.
“There will be a learning curve but the talent actually fits the system very well,” she said. “I’m excited to see what we can do as we progress.”
Scott Ferguson, a Butte school board member was one of four members on the selection committe including Jimmy O’Neill, Keith Miller, and Ron Ricketts, and says that Dennehy’s lifelong pedigree as an athlete and a coach played a major part in her getting the job over four other candidates.
Dennehy has been employed as a math teacher at Butte High since last fall.
“Her previous resume didn’t hurt, she was in the district and had the most experience of the five,” Ferguson said. “She has extreme organizational skills. There were five good candidates and it wasn’t an easy decision. It was extremely close on the points on two of the candidates and we all agreed on Liza in the end.”
Dennehy who was an assistant girls varsity coach at BHS for six seasons in the 90s as also held coaching jobs in cross country in both a head job and assistant capacity.
“She showed great ability to be extremely organized and she managed people before,” Ferguson said. “She currently has a position at the High School which didn’t hurt her. She came in with a plan.”
Even though she hadn’t coached varsity basketball since the mid 90s, Dennehy kept her hoops chops to speed for most of the past decade.
“I spent 9-plus years through the early 2000’s coaching traveling basketball — boys and girls — at the middle school level before moving to the stands four years ago to watch my kids play high school sports,” she said. “I am currently teaching math and coaching cross-country at the high school, so I’m surrounded by high school students a good percentage of the time. With all that said, I have been around athletics my whole life whether competing, coaching, and being just as a fan. I feel pretty comfortable in the gym.”
Dennehy is the daughter of recently retired Bulldog track coach Charlie Merrifield and the sister of athletic director Chuck Merrifield.
Merrifield was not a part of the selection process and did so voluntarily.
“I recused myself because I had a sister up for an interview so I took myself off that committee completely,” Chuck Merrifield said. “I hope my sister got hired because she is the best candidate. We had some extremely good candidates.”
Even with her connection to current Butte High administrators, Ferguson believes the committee found themselves a winner based on her skills.
“Four of the five people that put in for the job are big Butte names so in a town this size unless we are getting great applicants from somewhere else...we had to solicit applicants and I even did and no one put in so what are you going to do,” Ferguson said. “I dont think you should hire someone because of their last name but also shouldn’t eliminate people because of their last name and Liza was the right person for the job.”
Dennehy is ready to to take hold of this program and not only make it hers but to build on the successes it has recorded for years.
“There’s no pressure,” Dennehy said. “We’ll get to work putting in place the processes that we believe are necessary to position the program for continued success. I am looking forward to the challenge.”