Janis Beal: Born to play and coach basketball 


Not quite 30 years ago, Nike ran a series of ads and TV commercials featuring multisport athlete Bo Jackson bearing the slogan “Bo Knows.” The successful ad series touted Jackson’s knowledge of baseball and football, both of which he played professionally, and made fun of his lack of knowledge in other sports like ice hockey or other areas of life like music, including the famous line from Blues legend Bo Diddley in which he exclaims, “Bo, you don’t know Diddley!”

Well, if Bo Jackson knows football and baseball, perhaps Janis Beal could be featured in ads saying, “Janis knows basketball.” If there was ever a student of the game, it’s Beal, an all-star player in high school and college and now a successful college basketball coach.

The daughter of Tracy and Valerie Beal, the 2001 Lovell High School graduate excelled in multiple sports at LHS, including volleyball and track and field. She was a back row player on Lovell’s 1997 state championship volleyball team as a freshman and later became a setter and outside hitter for the Lady Bulldogs. In track, she competed in the pole vault, shot put and discus.

But she made her mark in basketball. She lived and breathed basketball, almost as if she was born with a ball in her hands.

Janis Beal

“I just loved sports, and basketball was definitely the one I caught onto the most,” she said. “My dad was always into sports, and since I was 3, when I had a little hoop in the house, Dad helped me develop my shot. He spent hours and hours rebounding the ball for me when I shot.”

Her high school coach, Bob Geiser, observed that love of the game in his future player when he first arrived in Lovell to teach and coach. He said when he and wife Joni first moved to the community, they lived across the street from the Beals and would see Janis constantly shooting on her backyard court as she developed a true love of the sport.

“I just loved basketball. I loved to watch the game,” Beal said. “I actually went to games to watch the game. I watched college games and NBA games with my dad. I enjoyed it. It was never forced on me. I always watched and analyzed it, and being able to have spent that time definitely helped me. I wasn’t the tallest or the quickest player, so I had to make up for it in some way.”

She was a four-year all-conference and three-year all-state player for the Lady Bulldogs as a guard and was named conference player of the year following her sophomore, junior and senior seasons – a rare feat. She was the player of the game in the Lovell’s state championship game victory in 2000, and after her senior year in 2001 she played in both the Wyoming-Montana basketball game and the Wyoming Coaches Association all-star game.

“She just understood the game so much,” Geiser said. “(College) coaches would call me and ask about her athleticism, speed and quickness and skills.”

Geiser said he would answer that “she’s average” when it came to speed and quickness and added that he told coaches, “She’s not lightning quick, but her knowledge of the game always puts her in the right position. Not only can she defend her own person, but she was always in a position to help (others).

“I could tell they wanted me to say she’s lightning fast or super quick, but I told them, ‘If you do not give her a chance, you’ll regret it.’ A few of them talked to me later and said, ‘I do regret it (not signing Beal).’”

One coach who appreciated what he would be getting if he could sign Beal was Northwest College Tom Webb, who knew Beal would be a perfect fit for his Lady Trapper teams.

“He played a style similar to what we played in high school – up tempo,” Geiser said. “A lot of coaches were coaching them (female players) like women and girls, and game scores would be in the 40s (for points), even the 30s. Tom came along when that stereotype was pushed off and shed.”

“It was just fun,” Beal said of Webb’s up-tempo style. “It was what I was used to and what I wanted. In my sophomore year we averaged in the mid-90s (for scoring), and we didn’t even press. It’s a fun style to watch and play.”

Beal laughs about how she didn’t really want to go to Northwest College, but Webb kept calling her.

“We had played in Powell my senior year, which was his first year at Northwest,” she said. “I got to talking to him, but I kind of blew him off. I kept putting him off and putting him off, and he said to just come up and play with our girls. Finally, I just went up there so he would stop calling.

Janis Beal takes the ball strong to the basket against the Shoshoni Lady Blue during her playing days at Lovell High School. She was inducted into the LHS Athletic Hall of Fame on Feb. 10.
File photo

“I came up one evening and played. I remember thinking on the drive back, ‘How am I going to tell my parents I’m coming here after everything I said?’ It just clicked. He was a great guy, and it was the right fit. I’ve had those experiences with our players (at NWC). If you can get them on campus it’s a whole different story.”

Not just a scorer

Geiser said Beal had great floor vision and passing ability, noting, “She could get the ball where it needed to be. She was a player who could see the floor and be effective with the ball.”

That ability to share the ball and make fellow players better came to the forefront in Beal’s senior year, 2000-01, Geiser said, when Beal was the lone returning starter and had several young teammates.

“Everyone assumed she would score 35 points per game and that we wouldn’t be as competitive, but she made everybody better,” he said. “We had a bunch of sophomores, and she would get them the ball where they could be the most effective. We became a team where anyone could score 12 to 14 points, and a lot of it was her getting the ball where they needed it.

“She was the perfect blend of knowing the game and that competitive fire.”

He told of Beal’s competitive nature when she was a sophomore at LHS in 1999. The Lady Bulldogs fell to Burns in the first round at State but in the second round soundly defeated Wright, which had come in as one of the tournament favorites, undefeated until play in Casper.

In the consolation championship game against Pinedale Beal scored 7 points in the first quarter but went down with a knee injury minutes into the second quarter and sat out the rest of the half.

“She strained a knee, and it swelled up, so we iced it,” he said. “At halftime she’s pacing in the locker room, saying, ‘Put me in. I can play.’ I said, ‘Sit down. We’ll talk about it. I’m not putting you back in. You’re a sophomore and I’m not going to jeopardize the next two years (of your career) to win one game this year.

“She sat there and cried (during the second half). That was the only game she didn’t score in double figures in her entire varsity career. She finished two points short of averaging 20 points a game for her whole high school career. She even scored in double digits coming off the bench as a freshman.”

Lovell lost that game to Pinedale, 63-56.

Championship year

Lovell was a power the next season as Beal and seniors Julie and Jackie Tippetts (cousins), Teri Hyde and Dana Fowler went 20-4 and won the 2000 state championship. Senior Becky Walker was strong off the bench, along with Cyrena Undem.

At the regional tournament Lovell crushed Saratoga in the first round and beat Greybull in the semifinals. Lovell and Rocky Mountain met for the championship. Lovell was up one and Beal sank two free throws to increase the lead to three. Jessica Campbell, who later coached with Beal at NWC, nearly hit a three-pointer from half court to tie the game, but Lovell prevailed 50-47, Geiser recalled.

At State the Lady Bulldogs trailed Tongue River 21-18 at halftime and 33-29 after three but rallied in the fourth quarter to win 47-41.

“Janis wasn’t feeling well,” Geiser said. “She went the whole week on 7-Up and crackers. We struggled the whole game.”

But Beal scored 16 points.

Lovell beat Wind River 55-45 in the second round as Beal scored 17 points, and the Lady Bulldogs met Rocky for the championship, the Lady Grizz having dispatched Wright and Big Horn in the first two rounds. Lovell won the title 64-55 as Beal score 19 points.

As a junior Beal averaged 20.8 points per game, hitting 42 three-pointers and shooting 40 percent from beyond the arc and 51 percent from two-point range, plus 80 percent at the foul line. She also had 89 assists to lead the team and had a team-leading 77 steals plus 17 blocked shots.

As the lone returning starter as a senior in 2000-01, Beal led the Lady Bulldogs into the playoffs once again. Lovell won its fourth consecutive regional title, Geiser said, edging Rocky Mountain 65-64 in double overtime in the championship game in Riverton.

The title game was tied 53-53 after regulation, Geiser said, and Campbell “cashed a three-pointer” to send the game into a second overtime at 59-59. Lovell outscored Rocky 6-5 in the second overtime to win 65-64 as Beal scored 35 points and went 12-12 at the free throw line in the fourth quarter and the two overtimes.

Lovell beat Lusk 64-52 in the first round at State as Beal scored 22 points, and Geiser recalled that the Lady Bulldogs were down 27-25 at halftime but outscored Lusk 31-7 in the third quarter as the team missed only one shot.

The Lady Bulldogs lost to a “loaded” Big Horn team in the semifinals, 68-48, despite 18 points from Beal, then fell to Sundance for third, 56-54, as Beal tallied 20. Big Horn went on to beat Greybull 63-33 for the title.

Understanding the game

Geiser likes to tell a story from Beal’s senior year. The sophomore-laden team was leading Riverside at halftime in Basin after playing well early in the game but they had made some “silly mistakes” and turnovers to let the home team back into the game.

Geiser was concerned because his team had an important game the next night against Wind River, who had beaten the Lady Bulldogs in Pavillion, and he wanted his players to be at the top of their game.

“Kevin (Robertson, assistant coach) and I were walking across the gym floor, and the young girls were kind of happy-go-lucky as they went into the locker room,” Geiser said. “I said, ‘Tonight’s the night we need to drop the shoe (make a scene in the locker room). I was always loud, but this time I tried to act mad and loud.

“I dropped the clipboard on the bench and it was pin quiet, and Janis was across from me. She bowed her head, I think to keep from laughing, as I went through my spiel.”

Geiser warned that if the team played the next night like they did in the second quarter in Basin they would lose to Wind River again and urged the young team to get serious and re-focus.

As the team left the locker room Beal hung back and when Geiser and Robertson got to the door turned to Geiser and said, “Good one, coach.”

“I knew Bob well enough at that point and after going through so much with him,” Beal said, confirming Geiser’s 2001 story and her role on the team that year.

“She reinforced what I already knew, that she understood the game,” Geiser said, “not just Xs and Os but the motivational part, too.”

“It was such a drastic change (from my junior year),” Beal said of her senior season. “We’d had such good players. I had to take a step back and help them (the sophomores) learn. Bob talked to me about that going into my senior year. It helped me as a coach, that experience as a senior in high school.”

Beal said she owes a lot to Coach Geiser.

“One of the biggest things was how much he believed in me,” she said. “That was huge for being able to move on to the next level, the confidence he instilled in me.”

She said she learned a lot from being expected to win as a junior and teaching younger players as a senior, adding, “I was always so serious, and while I helped them with basketball, they helped me learn how to have fun.”

Beal won the Mower Award for Class 1A-2A as a senior and was named the LHS Female Athlete of the Year. She was also LHS valedictorian.

College playing and coaching

Beal moved on to Northwest College and burst onto the national scene as a member of the Lady Trappers, leading the nation in scoring for much of her freshman season and eventually finishing second at 23.8 points per game while playing for coach Webb. As a sophomore she was 14th in the nation in scoring, averaging
19.3 points per game, just ahead of teammate Kristin Pierce at 19 ppg, as the Lady Trappers had more help around her.

She was named all-region both seasons and was named to the Region 9 all-tournament team both seasons, as well. She was the Wyoming Community College Athletic Conference player of the year in 2003 and both a Kodak All-American and NJCAA All-American honorable mention selection following her sophomore year.

Beal moved on to play for the Southern Utah University Thunderbirds, coming off the bench her junior year and starting as a senior. She was a team captain her senior year. She was named to the Mid-Continent Conference all-newcomer team in 2004 and second team All-Mid-Continent Conference in 2005. She graduated in 2005 with a degree in physical education and a minor in health education, then worked as an assistant coach at Eastern Washington University for two seasons with Webb.

She earned her master’s degree in human movement and sports conditioning from A.T. Still University in 2008 and during that year coached at both Lovell Middle School and Lovell High School.

“She coached my freshmen and really helped some of those guards,” Geiser said.

Following one season as an assistant basketball coach at Snow College in Utah, she was hired as the head coach for her alma mater, Northwest College, in 2009 and is currently in her ninth year at the helm of the Lady Trappers. NWC is 23-7 so far this season, improving Beal’s college coaching record to 143-139.

“She gets the best out of them,” Geiser said of Beal’s coaching. “She has a good combination of intensity and being a teacher. She’s loud, and that’s good.”

“I love to see kids grow and move on,” Beal said, adding that she loves the relationships that are formed between players and coaches.

“It’s a special profession that creates those relationships,” she said.

Remembering the opportunity she had coming out of high school, Beal said she does not hesitate to recruit players from small schools, noting that sometimes they are the “hardest working kids.”

But she joked that recruiting and coaching Lovell players sometimes has its drawbacks, though.

“Coaching Lovell kids makes me feel old,” she laughed. “Kisha McArthur was my volleyball coach, and (daughters) Chayli and Charri (manager and player on her current NWC team) were very, very young.”

Does Beal know basketball? Indeed she does. And she’s passing that knowledge on to others.

By David Peck

Editor’s note: This is the fourth of four features about this year’s inductees into the Lovell High School Athletic Hall of Fame including Grant Goodrich, Tim Winland, Chad Lindsay and Janis Beal.