Hoeppner takes softball opportunity in West Liberty after a bounce-back year at Mid-Prairie

By Paul D. Bowker
Posted 11/17/21

Matt Hoeppner, Mid-Prairie’s former head softball coach, was traveling recently by car when his cell phone kept buzzing with text messages.

Chad Libby, the softball coach at West Liberty, …

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Hoeppner takes softball opportunity in West Liberty after a bounce-back year at Mid-Prairie

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Matt Hoeppner, Mid-Prairie’s former head softball coach, was traveling recently by car when his cell phone kept buzzing with text messages.

Chad Libby, the softball coach at West Liberty, had announced he was resigning after a four-year stay and two state tournament appearances by the Comets.

It wasn’t long before Hoeppner’s phone really heated up.

Hoeppner, who coached the Golden Hawks to a 10-win season this past summer and was anticipating an even better 2022 season, has been the girls basketball head coach at West Liberty the last two years. He lives there. His wife has cousins who play sports at West Liberty.

Soon, a job offer surfaced.

The emotions tugged at Hoeppner.

“Very torn,” he said one day last week after finishing up a basketball practice at West Liberty High School.

As a head coach in two sports at two schools that play in the same conference, he had formed bonds in both places.

“You form relationships with the kids out at Mid-Prairie, and then on the other hand, the kids that are over here are kids that I’ve already been coaching and kids we’re related to,” he said. “You go back and forth, and back and forth.”

It was not an easy call.

“I had a couple of discussions with the kids at Mid-Prairie. Almost every single one of them said, ‘I get it.’ It sucks for us. We obviously want to keep you, but we understand why you would do that,” Hoeppner said.

“That alone talks to the kind of people and type of kids I had there,” he said.

Hoeppner wound up taking the job and now Mid-Prairie is searching for a new softball coach.

Tyler Hotz, Mid-Prairie Activities Director and Assistant Principal, said the job will remain open until it is filled.

“We are looking to hire a head coach and assistant coach,” he said.

The Golden Hawks won 10 games for the first time in four years this past summer. They swept a doubleheader (the Hawks actually did it twice) for the first time in two years. The 28 runs they scored in a doubleheader against Holy Trinity were the most runs scored in two games since 2014. With only one 2021 senior graduate in pitcher Myah Lugar, a number of eighth-grade starters, freshmen, sophomores and juniors promise a strong future.

“The kids that were there in the community that I got to know, and the parents, just phenomenal,” Hoeppner said. “I opened up gyms and the field and anything for the kids, and they’d show up. They worked hard, got after it and they wanted to get better. There waa a “want to” to turn the program around. It’s there. It’s headed in the right direction. It’s got the right kids.”

Hotz said Hoeppner was “very organized, communicated well, and helped improve the positive culture in the program. We wish him well in the future.”

And in a strange twist of fate, Hoeppner’s basketball team at West Liberty opens its regular season November 30 against Mid-Prairie. The Comets won 16 games last year, came within one game of reaching the Class 3A state tournament, and have some of the same girls who eliminated Mid-Prairie in the Class 3A softball regionals.

It will be a night of reuniting and also a night of battle.

“Even before I coached there, it’s a team I don’t want to play. … They’re going to come at you, they’re going to work hard,” Hoeppner said. “We play them twice. I’d rather not play them twice. I don’t want to play them once in any sport for just that mentality reason.

“We’ll see what happens. I know they’re working hard. They have great players over there.”

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