Richardson and Carlson

Randi Richardson-Thornley and Hillary Carlson stand together during the National Anthem prior to a Central Washington University women’s basketball game. Richardson and Carlson were teammates at the University of Wyoming prior to coaching together at CWU. This past week, Carlson took an assistant coach position at the Air Force Academy.

When Randi Richardson-Thornley took the head coach position for the Central Washington University women’s basketball team in 2017, her best friend and former teammate Hillary Carlson wasn’t the first person to come to her mind when looking for an assistant coach.

Carlson, who played three years with Richardson at the University of Wyoming, was established in Cheyenne, Wyoming teaching at Central High School and helping coach the basketball team.

“I thought that’s kind of where she was and what she was comfortable doing,” Richardson said. “She had just bought a house in Cheyenne. It didn’t come to me because I thought that she was happy where she was at.”

That changed when Carlson reached out to Richardson, inquiring about the job. It wasn’t an easy decision for Richardson because there were factors to consider: Could she work with her best friend and maintain that relationship?

“At the end of the day, what means to me more than anything is my friendship I have with Hillary,” Richardson said. “She’s one of my best friends, she was in my wedding two years ago.

“I took a little bit of time to think ‘Could we do this as friends?’ Because we had never coached together, we’d played, and it’s a very different thing. And the pressure’s different and you know, all of that. And could I be her boss? Could I evaluate her on her job and that kind of stuff? Could we work together in that way?”

It proved to be that the tandem could flourish as coaches. In their two years together, CWU posted a 33-25 overall mark while going 23-17 in the Great Northwest Conference. CWU qualified for the GNAC tournament both seasons, including an appearance to the conference semifinals this past season.

But this past week, the duo of Richardson and Carlson is coming to an end, as the Air Force Academy hired Carlson to become its new assistant coach for the women’s basketball team.

Carlson was planning on returning for CWU’s 2019-20 campaign, but that was until she met an assistant at the Air Force Academy at a basketball tournament and asked if Carlson would be interested.

According to Carlson, the Air Force Academy was allured to the fact that she was a player in the Mountain West Conference, where she was a three-time all-conference selection. She earned first-team honors her senior season in 2011, averaging 17.3 points and 7.2 rebounds per game.

While at CWU, Carlson worked with post players while serving as a recruiter in the offseason. Taking the position at the Air Force Academy is a big step in her coaching career. She joins head coach Chris Gobrecht, who has 39 years of head coaching experience.

“They’re recruiting to a pretty difficult situation because it takes a very special kid to want to come to the Air Force Academy — just for basketball,” Carlson said. “The school itself there’s a lot that entails. I think they’ve got a good system and I’m excited to learn that.”

Carlson was also attracted that the Air Force Acamedy, located in Colorado Springs, is only three hours away from her family in Wyoming.

FROM TEAMMATES TO COACHES

At Wyoming, Richardson and Carlson posted a 61-35 record together. Not only were they teammates, but also roommates. Aforementioned, Carlson was one of the bridesmaids in Richardson’s wedding two years ago.

Once their collegiate careers ended in 2011, they went their separate ways but still stayed in touch. Every summer they would meet up at the Spokane Hoopfest.

Having the same experiences and values from vying together on the court, it helped them cooperate seamlessly with the clipboards.

“We were teammates and now we’re coaching together, in a sense we’re still teammates working together,” Carlson said.

“It was a really smooth transition,” Richardson said. “Hillary and I see the game very similarly and agree on standards and how a program should be run. We could really support each other in what we were doing. When you play together and she’s your post and I’m her point guard, you have to communicate on the floor and all that kind of stuff.”

They’re both going to miss coaching together, but hope their paths will cross again someday.

“We were both really bummed for me to be leaving,” Carlson said. “… It’s going to be different that’s for sure because we were really close friends and I learned a lot from her. I would love to coach with her again, but we’ll just see where our lives take us.”

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