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Polfus named D-4 coach of the year

Austin Hemmingson | Daily Press Carney-Nadeau head coach Paul Polfus embraces a hug with Brett LaFord after LaFord reached the 1,000-point mark in a 62-56 win over Bark River-Harris Feb. 18. Polfus was named the Division 4 coach of the year by the UPSSA.

CARNEY — Well, that’s one way to return to the sideline.

After previously not coaching the varsity squad since 2008, Paul Polfus stepped back into that role for the Carney-Nadeau boys this season. As he’s done his entire coaching career, he found a way to be successful.

Polfus was recognized for his efforts by being voted the Division 4 coach of the year by the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association Thursday. The voting was done online due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Polfus led the Wolves to a 15-7 record, but it was the direction in which they were trending that made his most recent coaching job so impressive. The Wolves had won seven straight games and were headed to the district final before the MHSAA cancelled play due to COVID-19.

“We’ve been doing a better job taking care of the ball and taking advantage of certain situations that we get ourselves in,” Polfus said before district play started. “Once we get a lead toward the end of the game we’ve been able to finish games. We were having long lulls in games where we wouldn’t score (earlier in the season), but we seem to be more consistent right now. Hopefully, that carries over to the postseason.”

It certainly looked like it did.

The Wolves had three players averaging over 12 points per game, including Skyline Central Conference player of the year Brett LaFord. Polfus was able to get the most out of a team that didn’t have a player over 6-foot-1.

That player was LaFord, who played point guard. Not exactly a center.

“Brett’s had a great year for us this year,” Polfus said. “He had a 40-point game (Jan. 28 against Superior Central) and he went over 1,000 points. He’s averaging like 23 and 10, so it’s been a good year for him.

“I thought Beau (Koffman) and Max (Baumler) have matched up real good with that. I thought Brayden Kakuk has been playing better all the time, and Mike Flanagan is sort of the unsung hero of our team. He does a lot of things away from the ball like getting steals, and fundamentally, he’s so sound.”

Getting players to unite and play well as a team is something that’s a direct reflection of coaching. Early in the season, Polfus emphasized team concepts, ball movement and trying to get his team to trend the right way at the end, which led to some early bumps in the road.

Their record was deceiving to an extent. Playing in the Skyline is no easy task, and the Wolves challenged themselves in the non-conference by playing multiple teams out of the Milwaukee area. Despite this, their largest loss was by just 10 points.

Polfus officially took the job over in May, when his son, Jacob Polfus, resigned after spending 11 years in the position.

Paul was already incredibly accomplished, posting a 501-125 record and three Class D state titles as the girls coach between 1979 and 2005. He also coached the boys from 1996 to 2008, posting an 170-113 record and winning four Central U.P. Conference titles.

He didn’t win any titles this season, but he didn’t have the chance to in the playoffs. A clash with arch-rival North Central was waiting until the MHSAA officially pulled the plug on winter and spring sports Friday.

Polfus would be the first to tell you this wasn’t his best coaching job, because that’s just the way he operates. He sets the bar high. But not just anyone can return to the game after 11 years and appear to not a miss beat.

He couldn’t argue that one.

It requires a lot of time, dedication and knowledge of the game. That’s why he’s coach of the year.

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