WESTVILLE — As commutes go, there may not be another coach in Indiana who will travel to work further than Westville's Kyle Stage.
Formally hired as the Blackhawks girls basketball coach at the school board meeting Wednesday, Stage will be making the two-hour trek from Kokomo to western La Porte County.
"Kokomo's an hour ahead, so if we get done at 9, I'm not getting home 'til midnight, then I'm back in the car at 8 the next morning," he said. "Luckily, I don't start until third hour here. I like driving. Our kids have already started school and my wife didn't want to move during the school year. I'm renting an apartment in Michigan City, so I'll stay there on game nights. We'll see after a year about coming up here, maybe even somewhere in between."
Aside from the hours on the road, the Westville job appealed to Stage, who took over a one-win Western team in 2016-17 and posted 11 victories last season. The single-season improvement from 2-21 to 11-12 was the sixth-largest in the state. Prior to Western, Stage spent a decade at Tri-Central, the last seven as girls head coach, capturing back-to-back sectionals and a regional over his last two campaigns at the Class A school.
"Kyle's resume really speaks for itself," Westville Atheletics Director Drew Eubank said. "He's got a proven track record of winning and improving teams. That's the biggest thing. It really jumped off the screen. Then we got the chance to talk, everything he said was music to my ears. We're pretty like-minded when it comes to basketball."
A Lewis Cass and Ball State graduate, Stage was in the insurance business for several years before going back to school to get his teaching license. He spent a half a year at Lebanon and a year at Tri-West before latching on at Tri-Central as boys JV coach. Most recently at Western, Stage was teaching special education at a private school in Kokomo that was funded by a grant. When the grant was cut, his teaching load was reduced to two days a week.
"I really liked it up here, I liked Drew," Stage said. "I looked on MaxPreps and saw (Westville's) record. I went through their stats and saw they had the top five or six scorers returning. I'm not really familiar with anything up here. I know the schools because I'm a basketball junkie. I love playing teams from different places. I'm surprised how close a lot of the schools are in the conference. I like the small school, the feel. At Western, I was teaching at a different school, so I didn't really get to know the kids."
Stage, who has been teaching business, will teach Physical Education at Westville.
"I love P.E.," he said. "I'm not sitting behind a desk all day. I'm looking forward to it. I'd like to find a place I can stay 20 years. I want to be part of a community."
Westville went 13-9 last season, posting a winning record for the third year in a row, a first for the program.
"There's a nice core group of girls back from last year," Eubank said. "I think Kyle's in a unique spot where he can focus on winning but also on building for the future. Not that Kyle's in the area, but there probably aren't a lot better guys in the area for that than Kyle. A lot of what he's doing is carryover from what the girls were doing before."
Stage's style of play builds around a matchup zone on defense and a read-and-react type of offense.
"When we started having success, we switched to a matchup zone," he said. "It takes a little while to get it, but once we get decent, we push it to half court and that's where we get a lot of opportunities. We'll run off made baskets. Everything's going to be running. Offensively, I don't teach plays. I teach them to read screens, read cuts."
A trademark of Stage's recent teams has been getting to the foul line.
"Our Western team was No. 2 in the state in free throws shot," he said. "The last two, three years at Tri-Central, the last year at Western, maybe both years, we had a girl who made more free throws than anybody in the area shot, and that included Northwestern girls. I give them freedom. If they see an open layup, don't run a play, shoot the layup. It builds confidence with them, too. I'm not going to tell a kid they're not a shooter. What if that kid has a shot in the last seconds of a game?"
Ashley Spurr returns as assistant coach, providing Stage with a bridge to the Porter County Conference.
"We'll have them in the gym a bunch," Stage said. "If they want to shoot, I'll be here. I told them it depends on how much they want it. It's up to them."