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BOYS' BASKETBALL: Morris leading Panthers

Aaron Hagen/Daily Globe Ellsworth head coach Tyler Morris (right) accepts the Section 3A South coach of the year award following Ellsworth's victory Saturday.

ELLSWORTH -- Tyler Morris isn't taking anything for granted.

In his first head coaching job as the head girls' coach in Elk Horn, Iowa, Morris won seven games in two seasons.

As the Ellsworth boys' basketball coach, he's already won nearly four times that -- in one season.

"At Elk Horn-Kimballton, I was the head girls' basketball coach and we were terrible, just awful," Morris said. "That was my first experience of being a head coach, so that was kind of interesting and opened my eyes to a lot of things. It was frustrating at times, but I knew that's what I wanted to keep doing."

He then moved to West Marshall in State Center, Iowa, and took the helm of the eighth-grade boys' program.

"When you win seven games in two years, no matter what kind of team you have, you hear things," Morris said. "I heard a lot of how poor of a coach I was and things like that. Last year at West Marshall, I coached eighth-grade boys' basketball and we went 11-1. So that was a nice change of pace last year. People came up to me after games and told me how great I was doing. Here, we've had success this year, and I've heard a lot of the same things."

Not only do the people of Ellsworth believe in Morris, but so do his peers. He was awarded the 3A South Sub-Section Coach of the Year award following Saturday's sub-section championship.

"That was kind of cool," Morris said. "It makes your job a whole lot easier when you're surrounded by great players and good assistant coaches -- that makes my job really fun."

Ellsworth will be in search of its fourth consecutive state tournament berth Thursday night. The Panthers, who were the top seed in the south, will face Ortonville, which was the top seed in the north of the Section 3A bracket, starting at 5 p.m. at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall.

"It was nice to win the sub-section, but we definitely have bigger goals than that," Morris said. "We've been talking a lot about how we have one more to go, and that's the big one. Let's not buy into the hype and let's not buy into the congratulations and everything that everything is giving us right now because we really haven't done anything yet."

Even with the high expectations Ellsworth has become accustomed to, Morris isn't feeling pressure.

"A lot of the guys played last year, so we had a lot of guys coming back with some experience," Morris said. "Coach (Steve) Kellen has been here, so I've gone to him a lot. Coach (Curt) Schilling has been there before as a player, so I've been surrounded by some great players and some good coaches. I haven't felt too much pressure."

With a basketball-rich tradition in Ellsworth, Morris didn't change too much when he took the helm from former coach Markus Okeson. However, that doesn't mean he didn't incorporate a few wrinkles into a playbook that has more than 50 offensive sets.

"I came in and looked at the roster and saw that we have a lot of experience coming back and a couple of key seniors coming back, so I wanted to keep a lot of the things similar," Morris said. "They've been doing some good things around here, obviously, so we run a lot of stuff that they've been doing for years around here. I've added some things of my own along the way, but I wanted to keep a lot of the things familiar.

"Obviously, I've wanted to put my stamp on things here and there, and I've been able to do that and it's been fun. That's been neat to come in and be able to add a few things feel good about it."

Morris hasn't even had time to sit back and enjoy the success.

"Not yet, just because I know everybody has bigger goals," Morris said. "Maybe down the road it will (sink in). But right now I'm just kind of enjoying it and I'm also trying to stay focused on what we want to do and I'm trying to keep the guys focused on that. We're trying to get better in practice everyday leading up to Thursday."

Ortonville (22-4) will provide challenges for the Panthers Thursday night.

"We have to guard the 3-point line," Morris said. "They like to shoot it and if they get hot that's always a worry. Long shots produce long rebounds, so we have to box out after that.

"I think we need to play at a good pace. It doesn't have to be frantic or anything, but we definitely need to play at a good pace and get up and down the court at times. I think we need to take advantage of our height and get the ball inside to Trevor (Gruis) and, hopefully, our shooters will be ready to go, too, because that's always tough when you can go inside out."

The two teams have only one opponent in common, Russell-Tyler-Ruthton. Ellsworth defeated the Knights by 13, while Ortonville won by 15.

"I noticed that today looking at their schedule," Morris said. "So I'm sure the R-T-R coach is going to hear from both sides here."

Even though Morris has come a long way since his days at Elk Horn-Kimballton, neither he nor his team is ready for this season to be over.

After all, the Panthers (26-3) have history on their side. They are the two-time defending state champions and haven't lost to a class A team all season long.

"That'd be a nice streak to keep going," Morris said.