Glidden-Ralston girls’ head coach Cole Corson, 28, is already in his seventh year in the district and his fourth in basketball. In four years Corson has won 66 games, including G-R to a 13-3 record so far this winter.BRANDON HURLEY | DAILY TIMES HERALD
Glidden-Ralston girls’ head coach Cole Corson, 28, is already in his seventh year in the district and his fourth in basketball. In four years Corson has won 66 games, including G-R to a 13-3 record so far this winter.BRANDON HURLEY | DAILY TIMES HERALD
GLIDDEN - A simple fist pump and yelp of excitement provided the perfect glimpse into the mind of one of the area’s most promising young coaching talents last week.

Cole Corson’s schematic genius was never more apparent than during a sequence late in the second half of a routine Rolling Valley Conference matchup.

The young girls’ basketball coach hounded his Glidden-Ralston players to swing the ball to Gretchen Wallace, and as the Wildcats finally found her a few moments later, she calmly converted a traditional three-point play. The bucket had little significance on the eventual outcome, G-R already held a double-digit lead with less than three minutes to play, but it not only signified the confidence the young Corson has in his athletes, but also the trust his players hold for him in return.

In three and a half years as the leading man for the G-R girls’ basketball program, Corson has compiled 66 wins and just 20 losses, never once losing more than nine games in a season, each year collecting at least 14 victories. It’s a remarkable run that’s merely in the beginning stages of a potentially lengthy career, as the Wildcats are off to another hot start this winter, sitting at 13-3 overall.

Corson, a 2008 Coon Rapids-Bayard graduate, was bit by the coaching bug a little more than a year out of high school as he latched onto the Audubon athletic department. It was a way for him to stay in sports while also teaching the game. Only 28, Corson is nearly a decade into his coaching career, as he’s now in his seventh year at Glidden-Ralston, also as head coach of the baseball program and as offensive coordinator with the football squad. When he got his start in the profession, it was just to be around the sport, but Corson quickly fell in love.

His interest grew as he moved from Audubon to Glidden-Ralston, a rival of his former high school, but a place that’s allowed him to grow as a coach. Corson is now one of the more veteran coaches in the Rolling Valley Conference.

In the five years prior to his arrival on the sidelines inside the G-R gym, the Wildcats won a combined 31 games while losing a staggering 69. Corson swiftly turned the program around, building a winning tradition thanks to a free-flowing offense and high pressure defensive schemes.

Each member on the Wildcat roster has the green light to let a three-pointer fly, it’s how Corson builds confidence among his girls. G-R has drained the fourth most long balls in 1A through Jan. 23 at 102 makes while they knocked down 94 a year prior.

“It makes us tough to defend,” Corson said. “It gets our guards going and once they see that ball go in, it gives other people confidence.”

Hoisting up so many threes, often fairly quick shots at that, not only catches the defense off guard, but it presents an opportunity for an easy offensive rebound and put back. The only requirement Corson demands is that the shot be within the realm of the game.

“If you have an open shot, we talk about rhythm shots all the time. If you get a rhythm shot, take it, because more times than not, it’s going to go in,” Corson said. “If it doesn’t, it’s probably going to land softly and at least we have a chance for a rebound. We can’t have empty possessions, we have to get shots up.”

That lightening quick offense lends itself to Corson’s staple, his full court press, which wreaks havoc on Class 1A squads. Last season the Wildcats swiped 331 total steals while they’ve tallied 197 thefts through 20 games this winter. Corson’s defensive scheme wasn’t too difficult to implement, especially since this year’s group of seniors is in their fourth year in the system.

If shots aren’t falling though, it’s tough to set up their vaunted press. Which is why Corson’s game plan is one cohesive unit.

“A lot of it is reactions,” Corson said. “Some girls instinctively have it. Once they start seeing where they are supposed to look and where they are supposed to trap and double, it gives them a lot more freedom.”

The Wildcats’ press flusters a ball handler more often than not, as the defenders pick them up right after a basket, forcing a bad pass or into the aforementioned trap. It’s worked wonders for the past several years.

“They understand when we trap, everybody is reacting,” Corson said. “They’ve heard it enough and they can carry it through. Now the seniors are teaching each other, instead of me having to break it down every single day because they’ve been around it so long.”

When Corson glanced at the G-R roster as he took over the reins back in 2015, he noticed a group of athletic girls that could impact the game much more than just on the offensive end. True to his form, Corson immediately went to work on match ups. Legends like Julia Fleecs, who now plays for North Dakota, and Holly Handlos helped kick-start the new defensive wave as Corson quickly implemented his press.

“If you struggle to score but we can get the game going fast, teams aren’t necessarily ready for it and you can get easier looks,” Corson said. “If you play half court (defense) all the time, you get stagnant and lazy.”

Corson is able to run the press from opening tip to the final horn due to the depth of his squad. A strong majority of 1A schools don’t have the luxury of going 10 deep like Glidden-Ralston does, which lends itself to the constant pressure. In turn, the swarming, full court defense helps loosen up his athletes as they rely more on their instincts.

“Normally, I can play 10, and if you can do that and sprint all the time, other teams get a little tired and then have to play man-to-man,” Corson said. “It’s real tough to play defense like that when your legs aren’t there anymore. Then we can impose our will.”

Corson’s time calling the offensive plays on the gridiron has really allowed him to truly appreciate the schematic beauty of coaching. He’s keen on tapping into the most rewarding match ups.

“It’s pure schematics and all that,” he said. “I’m a data junkie, so I enjoy breaking things down. When we get a mismatch, I try to get us in position. It’s fun.”

Corson’s demeanor has transformed a bit over the years as well. It’s one of the biggest lessons he’s picked up almost a decade into his coaching career. He’s learned to pick his spots and exert a little more patience. It’s evident on the sidelines, as Corson, while still expressing his trademark passion, is slower to show anger and has become more understanding of mistakes within the game, both from his players and the officials.

The change clicked when he was taking in a game on TV.

“Sometimes you have to take a step back and realize it’s going to happen the way it is supposed to, regardless of what you say or do,” Corson said. “The other night I watched UCONN and Baylor play and I saw girls making bad entry passes and not not throwing it where they are supposed to. And I thought, ‘these are Division I players, the highest caliber girls and they are messing up.’

So I look back and I think, I’m dealing with 15-18 year old girls. It’s OK for them to mess up as long as they understand what needs to happen.”

Corson finds a lot of his inspirations through the philosophical teachings of Iowa State football coach Matt Campbell, a guy who’s helped stabilize the Cyclone program while preaching improvement.

“He looks at the process over results all the time,” Corson said. “If you play really good defense and they bank in a shot, it happens. But more often than not, if you play hard, they aren’t going to make it. That’s something I really preach. The results speak for themselves.”

As the Wildcats near another run at an elusive state tournament berth, Corson is confident the hours of practice and patience will pay off in a big way. He’s ready to ride his early successes into leading a new generation of athletes, while they all continue to appreciate the beauty of sports.