Fruita hires Wells as new girls hoops coach

Fruita Monument High School hired Michael Wells to be its new girls basketball coach Tuesday, nine days after letting go of previous coach Richard Atkins.

In Wells, the Wildcats get a coach with college experience and familiarity with the area. Wells was an assistant coach for the Colorado Mesa University women’s basketball team for 3½ seasons, serving under Taylor Wagner a year ago and Roger Walters before that.

Wells said he was ready for another season at CMU until he was contacted about the Fruita job.

Fruita Monument Athletic Director Denny Squibb said he was not at liberty to say much about Atkins’ departure, but he acknowledged Atkins did not resign. Squibb said Atkins met with his former players and told them he had been released from the job.

Atkins’ last day as the head coach was Sept. 30. Wells said he accepted the job Tuesday afternoon.

Squibb said Fruita had to act fast to find a replacement, and he feared finding good candidates would be difficult with the start of girls basketball practice merely one month away. To his surprise, he said, the Wildcats found three good candidates, and Wells stood out in that trio.

Wells acknowledged he has a lot to do in a short time with his transition.

“The calendar is such that we have to get after it quick,” he said.

He added it would’ve been nice to have the summer and fall to install systems, but the Wildcats will do their best with the time they have, beginning with an open gym today during which he will meet the players.

Wells inherits a program that comes off an excellent season, winning a first-round playoff game to advance to the Round of 16 in the Class 5A state tourney.

Several key contributors return from the team that finished 18-7 and tied Grand Junction and Montrose atop the Southwestern League at 8-2. The team’s top two scorers, Lauren LaBonde and Sam Parks, graduated, but Kassidy Fair returns after finishing third on the team in points (8.8 per game) and rebounds (80) and second in steals (37). Leading rebounder Vanessa Herrera is back (4.4 rpg), and she added 5 points per game, and Mariah Love returns after averaging 5.5 points per game.

Wells said his approach to the game will be similar to what fans saw a year ago from Colorado Mesa during its season that culminated in the NCAA Division II Tournament’s final eight.

“What you’ll see is a lot of what we did at CMU,” Wells said. “We’ll run and be opportunistic when there’s an opportunity to get easy baskets. Defensively, we’re going to play hard-nosed man-to-man defense the majority of the time.

“I learned a lot from Taylor Wagner about instilling toughness, and I want to start with that as our foundation defensively.”

Wells runs his own business, Synergy Imports. He’s a South Dakota native and a family man, married to his wife, Rhea, for 14 years, and they have three children: two daughters, ages 13 and 10, and a 6-year-old son.

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