As basketball season is nearly upon us, I've been making my yearly trip to all the schools in our coverage area. I both love and hate this time of year.
The short amount of time to get 10 boys and 10 girls basketball team photos and interviews done, stories written and an eight page tab put together can be pretty stressful and myself and my sports staff has put in a lot of long hours this week.
But I do enjoy talking to all of our area coaches, both the veterans and the rookies.
Here in Delta and Menominee counties we are fortunate to have some very good and personable coaches, many of whom have enjoyed a good amount of success at one time or another.
One of the coaches in our area who I have a lot of respect for is Joel Schultz at Bark River-Harris.
Schultz and the Broncos have won plenty of district titles and played in a Class D state final in 2011. But what sets Schultz apart is what he's done when faced with adversity.
Last season he had plenty of it, with injuries, athletes who left the team or didn't come out, three freshmen playing big roles on the varsity. And yet, the Broncos posted a 16-9 record and played in a district title game.
Schultz knows his team is no longer the favorite to win the U.P., that doesn't mean he's going to accept that. You have to admire a coach who knows where he stands but who aspires to something greater.
The Broncos are lucky to have him.
Karl Dollhopf at Gladstone I believe, is the smartest coach across the two county's we cover.
Over the past few years, I wouldn't say that Gladstone was particularly loaded with athleticism. Jammie Botruff was a very solid basketball player, as was Katie Becker, as is Jess Beaudry. None of them are quite on the level of say, Olivia Nash. However, all of their high school careers have been better than what Nash enjoyed at Escanaba.
I credit Dollhopf for utilizing each of these players to their max potential, turning them into razor sharp basketball players, who know their positions front to back. None of them are, or were, that dominant player that single handily took over a game, but all worked the gameplan to near-perfection.
Last season, the Braves were faced with a complete rebuild from their back-to-back regional title teams.
I have to believe a lesser coach would have struggled to squeeze five or six victories out of that bunch. They were pretty raw when the season began, but not so much when it ended. Dollhopf went 10-10 in the regular season with them.
You only need to talk to Dollhopf for a few minutes to realize he knows more about the game then just about anyone else you'll talk to. I know some have questioned his decision making, but given his track record and reputation for getting the most out of his players, I think he deserves the benefit of the doubt.
Tracy Hudson at Escanaba is a steady presence who keeps an even keel on things. Hudson is in his 17th season at Escanaba and owns a 163-174 record. Pretty close to .500 in the perennial dogfight that is the Great Northern Conference.
I suspect he'll even out that career record this season with a senior loaded team that includes multiple three-year starters.
Hudson knows what is expected of his team, but he also knows how fragile it all is. A lot can happen in a season, some it of it can be beyond the control of a coaching staff. So Hudson keeps his emotions about the season in check. Through the years, I've noticed that Hudson is often the same after a victory as he is after a loss. It's quite rare. He keeps an even keel.
He's also quite knowledgeable about his opponents. During the summer, Hudson participates in a lot of camps and drills. He knows what's out there and what other teams have. He knows what he has in relation to other teams. In talking with him, I could tell he'd analyzed his opponents on his schedule, gone down the line and figured how he'd match up against each one. Some coaches, I don't think go to that level.
Jake Polfus at Carney-Nadeau is the system coach. It doesn't matter what the Wolves have, you know what they're going to run, and Polfus knows it, because his dad Paul Polfus knows it. There's a long precedent of playing basketball the Carney-Nadeau way. And that's how a school with an enrollment closer to 50 than 100 stays competitive, and not just competitive, a model for other small schools. That the Wolves played in a Class D Final Four only two seasons ago with a team that all hovered at or below the 6-foot mark, is the definitive underdog story. They make movies about that kind of stuff. And behind Wade Schetter and Lucas Moreau, there was the system and there was Jake Polfus.
Dena Fedell at Escanaba is the new face, though she isn't exactly new, having coached for much of the last decade at the lower levels of high school basketball.
Fedell and the Eskymos I think is an intriguing team. My interview with Dena was one of my favorites because she's been waiting a long time for the opportunity she has with this team and she was excited. It's hard not to be interested when a coach has as much energy as Fedell has.
She's learned from some of the best, such as Nancy Osier at Ewen-Trout Creek, where she played her high school basketball. She's another coach who seemingly really knows the game and has a lot of ideas to reinvigorate the Eskymos. I look forward to watching the Eskymo girls this season.
I could say something unique about each of the coaches in our area. They all work hard to do what they can to bring success to their respective teams.
I hope fans and parents can take some time to realize that this coming season and appreciate the job they do with student-athletes and around the community.