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High school sports

Putting passion into practice

Preparation is key for coach with most wins in Colorado high school girls basketball history

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There were no sports for girls at the middle school Caryn Jarocki attended in the Chicago area, so she kept the scorebook for the boys.

That didn’t sit well with Jarocki.

“That made me angry because I was good and could play,” said Jarocki, 56. “I got into high school and they had basketball. I always loved playing and I always wanted to coach it. I love giving my kids my love for the game.”

Jarocki’s passion for the game has translated into the most victories of any girls basketball coach in Colorado history. Last month, she won her 600th game.

Jarocki, 56, played three years at the University of Denver and coached for 11 seasons at Colorado Academy in Denver. She has been the head coach for the past 20 seasons at Highlands Ranch High School and her teams have won seven state championships, most recently in 2011. Her first state title was in 2000.

“She has built a tradition and a program there that just feeds off itself and is so solid,” said Bruce Wright, the former Highlands Ranch athletic director. “It is geared toward helping kids to be their best. It continues to build off itself.”

In her 32nd season as a head coach, Jarocki has compiled 607 victories in games through Jan. 13 and never has had a losing season as a head coach. She has averaged 19.5 wins a season. At Highlands Ranch she has won 20.3 games a season going into the current campaign and the Falcons have averaged 22.3 victories in the past 11 seasons.

“Teams are different and players are different,” Jarocki said. “You have to find what each team is good at and put the pieces together. I’ve gotten better at that over the years.

“My favorite part of the day is going to practice ... It is a privilege.”

Talking about practice

At practice, Jarocki demands that her players concentrate on details and work hard on defense.

“She wants us to have that intensity and always play tough. That’s what she stresses the most,” said senior guard Tommi Olson.

Jarocki, a physical eduation teacher at the school, never loses her focus, or intensity.

“I’m actually more mellow than I used to be,” Jarocki said. “Defense is the place where we can improve the most. I don’t have the longest patience span with that.

“Hard work, paying attention to details and great kids that are willing to listen to you are the reason for the wins. The players are the ones playing.”

Jarocki has more interaction with players during practice than in games. Assistant coach Traci Nemechek coached against Jarocki when she was the head coach at Dakota Ridge and is often the first to talk to players when they exit the court for a substitution.

“I will tell you in practice it looks the opposite,” Nemechek said. “The assistants are after the players and she is so teacher-mode. When it’s game time, she is into it. We try to balance each other.”

High standards

One thing is obvious: The Falcons are well-prepared.

“Caryn always had her team prepared to play,” said former ThunderRidge and Monarch coach Bill Bradley, who is now coaching in Georgia. “The kids knew what they were doing and knew what they were supposed to be doing.”

Regis Jesuit coach Carl Mattei faces Jarocki in meaningful Continental League games each season.

“She sets her standards very high,” he said. “Once she won that first state championship, and achieving that success, she has been able to have every class after that play at a very high level. It is a credit to her ability to lead.”

Jarocki, Mattei and many high school girls mentors coach on club teams during the summer. Jarocki formed the Colorado Basketball Club eight years ago.

Several CBC players are on the current Highlands Ranch High team.

“I wanted to see my kids achieve certain things in the summer, and it wasn’t happening,” Jarocki said. “It started to become clear it would be much more favorable for my kids to play together.”

‘Coach J’

Jarocki is often referred to as “Coach J,” and many former players are appreciative of having had a chance to play for a coach who reached the 600-win milestone in a Dec. 7 win over Arapahoe.

“Coach Jarocki demands a level of respect that not a lot of coaches can gain,” Montana State sophomore Blaire Braxton said. “A lot of coaches have one way of trying to get players to respond, but Coach J creates relationships that allow her to connect with each player individually.

“I am forever grateful for the lessons that she has taught me as I will take them with me the rest of my life.”

Lindsay Mallon, a 2011 Highlands Ranch graduate who played at Northern Colorado, said practices were harder than games.

“Coach J held us very accountable to never take a play off and play hard,” she said. “We didn’t want to let each other or Coach J down and would hold each other accountable during practice, (which) led to success in games.”

Nemechek says Jarocki’s connection with her players is distinct.

“Probably the biggest thing besides her ability to coach and win games is she cares about kids,” Nemechek said. “A lot of people don’t see that because they see the wins, but there is so much more that happens in practice.”

This season’s Highlands Ranch team is 11-3 and ranked second in the CHSAANow.com Class 5A poll as Jarocki continues to rack up victories.

“The students and all the great players I’ve had make this fun,” Jarocki said. “I am very grateful to them.”

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