Former Hewitt-Trussville and UNC-Asheville player Matt Dickey (pictured above) was recently named boys basketball coach at Westbrook Christian.
By Chris McCarthy
The Westbrook Christian varsity athletic program will feature some new faces this coming school year.
Matt Kennedy, the school’s athletic director and head baseball coach, confirmed that Matt Dickey, Rachel Greer Neal and Rachel Dickey were hired as head coaches for the Warrior boys basketball, girls basketball and girls volleyball teams.
“I’m excited about the opportunity and I’m looking forward to getting things rolling through the summer and into the season,” said Matt Dickey.
Dickey conducted tryouts during the last week of school and was impressed by the both the turnout and talent level.
“From what I’ve seen so far, this is a group of guys that will be a dream to coach. They work extremely hard and bring the right attitude. They’re very coachable and listen very well.”
Dickey certainly has some big shoes to fill. In Donny Pruitt’s two seasons in Rainbow City, he guided the Warriors to a 56-11 overall record, two area championships and consecutive berths in the Class 2A Northeast Regional Tournament semifinals. The 2016-17 Warriors went 26-7 while winning the area championship and qualifying for regional tournament for the fifth year in a row.
From 2009-15, Seth Ford posted an overall record of 127-65 and led the team to three straight area title and regional berths. He currently is the boys varsity basketball coach at Ashville High.
“This program definitely has had established success with Coach Pruitt and Coach Ford, and my goal is to continue improve on that success as best we can and hopefully take that next step and make it to (the state tournament) in Birmingham,” said Dickey.
Kennedy said that Dickey gave a good first impression when the two initially met a few months ago.
“Matt seemed like a genuine and solid guy, and that’s the first thing we look for when we’re filling a coaching vacancy,” said Kennedy. You look first and foremost for a role model who can teach our young people to be character kids. I immediately could tell that Matt had that quality.”
Kennedy added that Dickey possesses the experience as both a player and a coach to maintain and improve upon a successful program.
With Dickey in the starting lineup, Hewitt-Trussville won an area title and twice made it to the regional tournament. He was a two-time All-Area selection and was named to the Birmingham News All-Metro team and an ASWA All-State honorable mention pick his senior year of 2007-08.
Dickey earned a basketball scholarship to the University of North Carolina at Asheville, where as the team’s point guard he helped the Bulldogs to consecutive NCAA Tournament berths. As a junior in 2011, Dickey helped UNC-Asheville defeat Arkansas-Little Rock in the first round. As a senior in 2012, he was named the Big South Conference’s Player of the Year after averaging 16.1 point per game en route to the conference regular season title, the conference tournament championship and a school record 24 wins. Dickey finished his collegiate career with 1,778 points, a school record for career points in UNC-Asheville’s Division I play.
“Matt’s credentials are there, and he’ll bring a lot of energy,” said Kennedy. “I think it will be a unique experience for us. He’s replacing someone in Donny who is an excellent coach and a man of high character, and we’re fortunate that we ran across a guy in Matt who has similar qualities.
“I think Matt will be someone fresh for us, and that makes a big difference. We also have several crucial guys returning to the team, and if they do what they’re supposed to do, another run to Jacksonville is very possible.”
After graduating in 2012, Dickey spent a season as a member of the NBA’s Houston, Dallas and Los Angeles franchises’ D-League teams. The Lakers organization invited him to return for another season, but Dickey said that he felt the Lord calling him in a different direction. He moved back to Trussville, where he was junior varsity coach and assistant varsity basketball for the Huskies for the past five years while serving as a student ministry associate for Trussville First Baptist Church.
“I had a great career at UNC-Asheville, and it was a privilege to play for Coach (Eddie) Beidenbach for four years,” he said. “I always had the idea that I would coach after I was done playing. After college I was planning on playing professional ball for about 10 years or until my knees gave out, so I didn’t expect that transition to be so early. But the Lord obviously had different plans for me.”
Dickey feels that the girls’ soccer team’s state runner-up finish and the annual success of the baseball team rubs off onto the school’s other sports.
“I definitely think that a high school’s sports program’s feed off each other. Coach Kennedy and the entire administration have done a great job of putting together great athletic teams and great coaching staffs, and I’m excited to be a part of that.”
A Gadsden native and 2000 Westbrook graduate who was a member of the school’s volleyball, basketball and softball teams, Neal has taught at Westbrook for the past two years. Her mother Cindy is the school’s head administrator, so she was familiar with the campus long before she entered as a student.
Neal moved to the Birmingham area after marring her husband Andrew before returning to the area a few years ago. She has taught kindergarten and sixth grade the past two years at Westbrook.
“I grew up running around the halls of Westbrook, so I’ve been there for most of my life,” she said. “One of the reasons we moved back was that we had a heart for the school and wanted to give our three girls a Christian education. It’s a real honor and a blessing to be able to teach and coach at the school I went to.”
Neal recently conducted tryouts for the girls basketball team and is looking forward to getting the program back on track after a four-win season in 2016-17.
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“I think that the girls are really excited, and we’re hoping to build a strong foundation,” she said. “My goal is to build at solid program that the younger girls can step into. I told Matt [Kennedy] and Brodie [Croyle] when we were talking about the job opening that I was a competitive person that does not like to lose, and we’re looking to bring back some determination and some discipline and bring back some success. We’ve also got some good young athletes coming up, so I’m also excited about what’s to come in the future.”
Kennedy said that he told Neal a few years ago that he eventually wanted her to take over the girls basketball program.
“When Jamie (Barkley) decided to move to Glencoe, Rachel felt that it was the right time,” he said. “She understands what our school’s about, and hopefully she’ll be here for a while.”
Like her husband Matt, Rachel Dickey is a UNC-Asheville product, where she was a member of the school’s volleyball program. As a setter for the Lady Bulldogs, Dickey finished in the top five in career assists. She helped the Lady Bulldogs qualify for the Big South Tournament semifinal her sophomore, junior and senior years.
Dickey taught preschool the past four years at Trussville First Baptist. She admitted that it was a “no-brainer” to join her husband at Westbrook once the head volleyball coaching position came open, especially with the couple’s six-month old son, Levi, in the picture.
“Every time they walked us through the campus, I told Matt that we just can’t help but want to be a part of the school and the community,” she said.
Dickey, who is a native of Grapevine, Texas, said she would hold tryouts later this month since she arrived at Westbrook so late in the school year. She did meet with the potential team members before school ended last week.
“That will work out well, since we can practice the whole month of July,” she said. “They’ve made it to [the super regional tournament in] Huntsville the last couple of years in a row, so hopefully we can work on making back there and staying a few days and then making it to [the Elite Eight state tournament] in Birmingham. That would be awesome.”
Dickey said that numbers-wise, the program likely would field varsity and junior high teams this fall.
“Short-term, we hope to get out of our area again and get back to regionals. Long-term, I’m hoping that we can add back in a JV team and maybe even a ninth grade team in the future. Hopefully within the next five years we can make it past super regionals and into state.”
Dickey is also grateful for the opportunity that Westbrook provided to pass on Christian values to her players.
“Because Westbrook is a Christian school, you can talk freely about Christ and share the Gospel with these girls. I think that it will be an easy role to step into with everybody being on the same boat and have the same goal in mind. Obviously we hope to do well as a volleyball team, but at the same time, if they’re not better women by the time they get done, then I haven’t done my job.”