ANNA – A new era of the Anna High School Lady Coyotes basketball has arrived with the naming of new head coach Justin Baldia, a North Texas native with a touch of European experience.

Baldia, 27, comes to Anna from Class 3A Blooming Grove, just west of Corsicana, where in one season there he led the Lady Lions to a playoff berth.

“We had a really successful year with a team that nobody really expected a lot out of,” he said recently at Anna High School. “This opportunity opened up and I was able to get in here. I’m excited and ready to be here for the long haul.”

Prior to Blooming Grove, Baldia was a middle school coach for three seasons in Frisco Independent School District.

“I think he’s going to be good, a good fit here for Anna and the growth we’ve got coming,” Anna athletic director Jason Heath said. “We had a lot of applicants, probably 40 or 50. We went through the process and had some really good ones. It’s not an easy process going through, narrowing it down. … We brought in seven or eight to interview. We just felt like he was the right fit for what we were needing. I’m excited about him being able to get on board and get going.”

Baldia takes over for Albert Cager who left the district after one season at the Lady Coyotes’ helm. Anna reached the playoffs last year as a fourth seed and narrowly missed topping a district champion in the first round of the playoffs.

Baldia grew up in the Flower Mound and Lewisville areas and attended Marcus High School for two years before graduating from Liberty Christian School in Argyle. From there, he received a scholarship to NAIA Bethel College in Kansas where he played shooting guard for the Threshers. Baldia majored in communications with minors in business administration and marketing.

After his final season at Bethel, Baldia traveled in Europe for a summer with USA Athletes International, competing against semi-pro basketball teams in Austria, Slovenia and Italy.

“It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up,” he said. “I learned a lot and was able to take a lot of stuff I learned from playing over there and apply it to coaching. … Basketball is transitioning to the less traditional. It’s transitioning to more ‘positionless’ basketball. I remember playing a team in Slovenia. They were all 6-5 to 6-7 guys and they did everything. They could handle it, they could post up, they could shoot. … Everybody could do everything and they were able to take advantage of any match up that they wanted to. You see it at the college level and even at the professional level - especially with the Golden State Warriors. They just spread the floor. Everybody can handle the ball, get to the rim and shoot from the perimeter. I don’t know that high school basketball will reach that in the immediate future but that’s sort of where it’s trending.”

After returning from Europe, Baldia and his wife Natasha were married in Kansas where he also completed a high school assistant coaching stint before getting back to Texas. After acquiring his teaching certificate, Baldia’s first official assignment was a semester in Dallas’ West Oak Cliff after which he began his tenure in Frisco.

Baldia said while the chance to move up to 4A ball and Anna’s rapid growth were attractive aspects of this job, there was more.

“My dad is a fire captain in Plano so this area has kind of been on my radar,” he said. “I’d always heard good things about Anna, even working at Frisco. I had some colleagues that had spouses or family that worked in Anna and they always said good things about it.”

He also said that after talking with Heath and Girls Athletic Coordinator Tomika Crosby about his vision for the athletic program, the things that they had to say were really encouraging.

“It sort of fit right in with my personal vision for coaching,” he said. “Everything we want to do together is kind of on the same page. It’s not necessarily about wins and losses right away. There’s going to be some growing pains, especially with us getting bigger and getting different folks in here. But those things are going to come. It’s about developing good character in student athletes, and allowing them to be successful in everything that they do.”

Crosby said that he is excited to have Baldia at the school and have him join the department.

“I truly believe he will be great for the girls basketball program,” he said.

Baldia explained his coaching philosophy.

“I think you’re going to see a team every night that out-works their opponent,” he said. “That’s going to be our calling card. We’re just going to out-work you, whether our shot goes in or it doesn’t go in. Whether your shot goes in or doesn’t go in.” His message for the Lady Coyotes: “‘If you’re doing the little things - you’re playing great defense, you’re diving on the floor for the ball … then there’s going to be a place for you.’ From what I’ve seen and what I’ve heard from other coaches, we have girls with that type of mentality.”

Baldia described Anna’s main gymnasium as incredible.

“It’s a great blessing for us to have access to a facility like that,” he said. “And I think the kids really benefit from it. They see that their community values their extra-curricular activities and they’re invested in that. And it allows them the opportunity to take care of something that’s nice and learn those values.”

Baldia also discussed the friendly rivalry Anna has with Melissa.

“I’ve heard a few things about it but I don’t think it’s something you can just hear about, you have to experience it,” he said. “A rivalry like that, it’s what high school sports are about. It makes it fun. Those are the memories the kids will have long after they stop playing. I’m excited to be here in this community. I think it’s growing and it’s really positive vibes all the way around.”