Though he never coached at the varsity level, Justin Abbott quickly made his mark on the girls’ basketball program at Lewis-Palmer High School.

But it was just a matter of time before he got his shot.

“You could tell he had bigger plans, and he has great things ahead of him,” said Rangers varsity girls’ coach Kristy Youngpeter, who worked with Abbott the previous three seasons. “He’s definitely a learner of the game and a learner of the profession as well. He’s a teacher by trade, and he works not only to understand the game but to teach the game.”

Abbott, a fourth-year social studies teacher at Mountain Ridge Middle School in District 20, in late September was chosen to lead the girls’ varsity program at Rampart.

It was at Lewis-Palmer, however, where the native of Flagstaff, Ariz., cut his teeth after first catching the coaching bug as a youth mentor at a recreation center during his high school years and as he studied at Northern Arizona University.

“Those days really spurred my interest in coaching,” Abbott said.

An opportunity at Lewis-Palmer gave Abbott a chance to further hone his coaching skills, and Youngpeter saw something special from his first moments on the job.

“You have to not only love the game, but you have to have the priorities of the young ladies ahead of your own, and he has that,” Youngpeter said. “He’s a great gentleman, a great coach, and I have a lot of respect for him.”

As head coach of Rampart, a 5A program, the step-up in competition has been daunting. The squad lost its first five games to start the new season, but Abbott sees the big picture. He knew it might not be a smooth ride at the beginning.

“It’s a challenge, but a fun challenge for sure,” Abbott said. “The most difficult piece you run into is that as the players are adjusting, you have to stay committed to the process as a coach and not jump off. We made a plan for the season, and just because you have struggles at the beginning, you can’t deviate from that. I think we’ll see big payoffs if we just stay with the process.”

Even without previous varsity head coaching experience, Abbott earned a job offer from Rampart athletic director and assistant principal Andy Parks. A committee, made up of student-athletes, parents and coaches, unanimously chose Abbott to replace Ashley Miller, who recently took an administrative position with the Air Force Academy women’s basketball team.

“His overall experience may have been less than others, but from what I saw and how he relates with kids, it just seemed like a good fit for us,” Parks said. “He’s well beyond his years from the standpoint of communication and organization. He makes sure all his bases are covered. I think he’s going to be a really good one, and we’re glad to have him.”

And Abbott is glad to make his home in the Pikes Peak region, having settled in Colorado Springs upon earning his undergraduate degree to be closer to family in Salida.

“It always felt like home here,” Abbott said. “Now that I’m coaching at Rampart, I’m getting a chance to coach some of my former students (at Mountain Ridge, a Rampart feeder school). It’s nice to see familiar faces, for sure.”

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