Two new coaches are filling big shoes at Stevenson

There are roughly 800 high schools in Illinois, with four classes of competition in basketball.

The chances of winning a state championship are slim.

But somehow, Stevenson found itself in a spot where it replaced two state title-winning coaches at the same time. Both Pat Ambrose (boys title in 2015) and Ashley Graham (girls title in 2022) stepped down following last season.

Despite having giant shoes to fill, the replacements are off to a good start. Regan Carmichael has the girls team ranked No. 4 in the Daily Herald Top 20 and undefeated in the North Suburban Conference. The Stevenson boys team, led by Will Benson, is ranked No. 16 but knocked off NSC leader Warren since the last ranking was published.

Carmichael is just 28 and a first-time head coach after spending the past four years on the staff at New Trier. She's at a stage in her career where even applying for this type of job was debatable, but she also interviewed for the opening at Hersey before getting an offer from Stevenson.

“It was one of those things, I felt ready, in a way,” Carmichael said. “I was like, 'I'm just going to throw my hat in the ring.' I'm really fortunate for (athletic director) Trish Betthauser seeing something in me and believing in me, and I think it's paying off.”

During his early years of coaching at Huntley, Benson sought advice from several established high school coaches, and Ambrose was one of them.

“One night we met at a restaurant in Barrington and talked for about three hours,” Benson said. “He was great. I learned a lot. I respected how he did things and we had a joint practice over the summer maybe five years ago.

“I was like, 'Well, if Stevenson ever opened, a million people are going to throw their hat in the ring for that job. I think I would at least try.'”

Commuter life

Benson's coaching progression can be measured in part by the length of his commute. He landed his first varsity job at Harvard at age 26, driving daily from his home in Lake In The Hills.

After three years he decided to try coaching at a larger school, so he led the sophomore team at Jacobs, where his wife taught, while still teaching at Harvard. He landed another varsity assignment at Marengo, but just one year later, he was hired at Huntley and could finally live and work in the same school district.

But that has changed. He's back to a 45-minute trek to work, same as it was to Harvard, but is hoping to move closer once his daughter Grace, now a sophomore, graduates from Huntley.

“At the beginning of the school year, my car radio was broken for months, so I had to listen to podcasts on my phone,” Benson said.

The Crystal Lake South grad played for former Barrington coach Marty Dello in high school, when he began coaching youth and feeder teams.

“(Dello) was the first coach I remember that would ask us our opinion on things during a game or during practice,” Benson said. “I thought it was really cool.”

  Stevenson girls varsity basketball coach Regan Carmichael during the girls basketball against Warren on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024 in Gurnee. Paul Valade/

Be like Teri

Carmichael doesn't even remember when her love of basketball began, because she was so young when it happened.

“My mom told me I was playing basketball when I was 4 years old,” she said. “I have an older brother (Ryan) who I just admired so much, I still do. He loved basketball, he grew up with the ’90s Bulls. So Michael Jordan gym shoes were a big part of my life.”

Carmichael watched her brother play basketball at Maine South, then did the same. She even followed his path to college. After starting at Saint Louis, Carmichael transferred to St. Norbert in Wisconsin, where she used to visit Ryan during his college days.

“I don't know if I knew I wanted to coach,” Carmichael said. “I just think I loved being around basketball. As a player, I loved understanding, 'Oh, we want to do this against this team,' the strategy behind it.

“And I love people. The relationships are the most important thing to me.”

Carmichael's enthusiasm is evident on the sideline. She called her varsity assistants three of the most important people in her life and good friends outside the gym.

“When I got to New Trier, I was like, 'Wow, I've made it,'” Carmichael said. “Playing against New Trier in high school, I was honestly like, 'I think I want to be (Trevians coach and Libertyville native Teri Rodgers). She's so awesome.'

“To come here and be a part of this really storied program, I guess now I've made it.”

  Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire has new coaches for both boys and girls basketball—Will Benson and Regan Carmichael, respectively. Joe Lewnard/

Changing guards

Both Graham and Ambrose are still teaching in the building. But at Stevenson's sprawling campus, that doesn't necessarily mean someone is nearby.

Of the four head coaches, Benson and Graham actually have the closest connection, because they both teach health.

“It's easier for Ashley to help me, because I didn't take over for her,” Benson said. “(Ambrose) teaches on the other side of the building. Pat's great. If I need something or ask something, he'll answer, but he'll stay out of it.”

Carmichael said one of her goals moving forward is to tap into Graham's knowledge as much as possible.

“She's really supportive,” Carmichael said. “I think it's really tough on the kids, especially these seniors that had her for the last three years and winning a state title. That's so much love and so many ups and downs that get poured into a season like that. I think it's been a good changing of the guard.”

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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