As fate would have it, Southwestern High School announced the hiring of a new girls basketball coach on the same day as one of their former coaches passed away.

In a much anticipated announcement, long-time Lady Warrior youth and assistant basketball coach Junior Molden was named the new Lady Warrior varsity coach. And with great sadness, the news of former Lady Warriors coach Tim Rice's death, on the same day, gave the day a rather melancholy atmosphere.

Molden had strong connections with Rice when he was coaching the girls basketball program at Southwestern High School. Molden had a young daughter, Destiny, playing on his team and Molden was coaching many of the varsity girls in the off-season. And both Molden and Rice have played a big part in the Lady Warriors' success over the years, which reached an apex this past winter with a 12th Region championship and a Kentucky state runner-up championship.

For Coach Tim Rice, he came to Southwestern as an unknown coach from the mountains, but he quickly made his presence known with his animated sideline antics. And in the process of bringing excitement to the Southwestern girls basketball program, he also built a foundation for a consistent winning program.

Rice's Lady Warriors' teams were always among the tops in the region, year in and year out. Rice led the Lady Warriors to four district titles and a 12th Region runner-up tile in his nine years as the Lady Warriors head coach. After a slow start his first season with a young team, Rice had winning seasons his last eight seasons at Southwestern.

But beyond Rice's success on paper, he was just plain fun to be around. He was always light-hearted and he told you exactly what was on his mind. And he never changed who he was no matter the situation. I can still remember every post-game interview I did with Coach Rice, he always had a big wad of tobacco in his mouth as he talked about his team's play that night.

Although his teams beat up on a lot of other coach's teams on the basketball court, he was admired and loved by all his opposing coaches. Many of his most bitter coaching rivals turned out to be his best friends.

Current Pulaski County girls coach Chris Adkins coached against Rice while Adkins was the Somerset girls head coach. And while their on-court rivalries were always heated, the two became best of friends off the court.

"The first time I had ever meet him, I was at Somerset coaching boys JV and he had got thrown out of a girls game for mouthing at the referees," Adkins laughed. "After the game, he was still mouthing about the refs and wouldn't leave our gym, and I couldn't conduct JV practice until he left."

"I introduced myself and told him he would have to leave," Adkins said with a grin. "He said 'I'm a redneck from the mountains and nobody talks to me that way'. I told him I was raised in West Virginia and I was a redneck too."

After that tense first meeting, Adkins and Rice became best of friends, and Adkins even served as Rice's assistant coach at Southwestern for a season.

"Come to find out we had played softball against each other many times and we weren't even aware of it," Adkins stated. "But we immediately became best of friends. We played golf together, and we even tried to play softball - although we were way too old to be out there."

"But when we coached against each other, he wanted to win just as badly as I did," Adkins stated.

At any district or region basketball meeting I ever attended, Coach Rice was always the 'life of the party'. He was either playing a prank on one of the opposing coaches or they were playing a prank on him.

But once you got Tim Rice on the sidelines coaching a game, the jokes and friendships were over. He wanted to win!

Although he never coached at the varsity level, the new Lady Warrior head coach Junior Molden has probably been as much a part of the success of the Lady Warriors' varsity program as anyone else. With two daughters coming up through the Lady Warrior system, Molden has coached at every level, every year and all year long.

Every player on the current Lady Warrior varsity roster, has probably learned a lot of basketball from Molden from the first time they ever picked up a basketball.

Junior Molden's tireless volunteer work coaching off-season travel teams and youth league teams, probably has gone unnoticed to many not involved with Lady Warriors' basketball program. But for anyone who has ever put on a 'blue and orange' girls basketball uniform, at any age, knows how much Junior Molden has done for the Lady Warrior basketball program over the past several years.

So yes, it is a joyous day and a somber day for the Southwestern High School girls basketball program.

We are joyous that Junior Molden will get his chance to shine at the varsity head coaching level, and we are excited about his leadership of the program for the future.

We are also sad to have to say farewell to an old friend in Coach Tim Rice, and we are forever grateful for his role in developing the Lady Warrior basketball program into a winning tradition.

STEVE CORNELIUS is the CJ Sports Editor and can be reached at sports@somerset-kentucky.com. Follow him on Twitter at @CJSportseditor.

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