Mountain Crest has found a new girls basketball coach and didn't even have to look outside the valley.
Candace (Buttars) Thornton was hired Friday to take over a program that reached new heights last season under Brittany Phillips. The Mustangs reached the 4A championship game for the first time ever, falling to Springville. In mid-April Phillips announced she was leaving after three seasons at the helm since her husband was applying for graduate school outside the valley.
Thornton has communicated with Phillips and met with potential Mountain Crest players on Saturday.
"She (Phillips) has been amazing, walked me through the things that I needed and given me a lot of advice," said Thornton, who is originally from Weston, but now lives in Logan with her husband and two daughters, Sophie and Elin. "She has been incredibly helpful."
Mustang athletic director Jim Crosbie decided to go with a Cache Valley native after interviewing three finalists from a pool of 15 applicants.
"Everybody on the committee felt like she was the next one to take over," Crosbie said. "... High school kids need someone with a lot of enthusiasm and excitement. I think she will do a good job."
The 25-year-old is excited for the opportunity. She has followed Mountain Crest and knew about the girls on the team, which Crosbie said impressed the selection committee. When Thornton saw the position open, she thought "what the heck, this is something I want to do."
"I know I'm young, but they are giving me a chance," she said. "I'm really grateful for the opportunity."
Being so knowledgeable of the Mustangs certainly made an impression on Crosbie, who said Thornton reminds him of Phillips and Amanie Crosbie, who are the past two coaches for the MC girls.
"She reminds me a lot of our last two coaches," Crosbie said. "Her youth and enthusiasm is good, and her experience as she has played college basketball. She has had some success.
"... When we met Candace, she already knew a lot about the girls. She has talked with Brittany, which as a AD I'm really excited about. At Mountain Crest, it is good to know about the past."
Thornton can't wait to get started.
"We have some pretty good players coming back," Thornton said. "I'm really excited to see which girls will work and step up this season. They definitely have the talent."
Thornton spent the last two years at her high school alma mater West Side. She was an assistant to the Lady Pirates head coach Ben Bennett and in charge of the junior varsity.
"I just love coaching," said Thornton, who will not teach at MC. "The past two years at West Side with Ben (Bennett), he has gave me so many opportunities and a lot of liberties as an assistant coach that I know a lot of assistants don't get. He has respected me and my opinion and really given me a lot of freedom as far as coaching the girls at practice and in games. That's what gave me the confidence to think of applying for a head coaching position."
The Mustangs went 22-2 last season, including 15-0 in Region 5 play. Mountain Crest has owned the region the past two years, going 29-1. Thornton is well aware of how successful the program has been.
"At Mountain Crest, the girls have been coached well," Thornton said. "They have a great thing going on right now, and that was something that I want to be a part of. Their administration, I've only been around for a week now, but they are incredibly supportive of the girls and have been of me. From the outside looking in, it seems like a great program. ... I'm glad to be a part of a great program now."
She is excited about the new opportunity, but will miss the Lady Pirates.
"It was super hard to leave those girls and that program," Thornton said. "... But I am happy to be at Mountain Crest."
Her coaching philosophy is to play tough defense and push the ball on offense.
"Defense is key to win any game and is all heart in my opinion," Thornton said. "As far as an offense, I have a couple of offensive spreads that I like to run, but if possible, I like to run and fastbreak. I really like an up-tempo game."
A 2004 graduate of West Side High, Thornton was the prep Valley Player of the Year in 2003 as a junior and earned numerous accolades during her high school career. She went on to play two years of college ball at Northern Colorado, then two more seasons at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and actually played against Phillips, who was a starter at Utah State. Thornton graduated with a degree in communications with an emphasis in media management.
While at Colorado Springs, she set the career 3-point record at the school. The Division II school also won a big tournament in Florida, which was a first for that program.