Muskego — With the senior trio of Katie Ellerson, Rachel Neuberger and Sarah Mlachnik back for another season, along with rising junior star Alyssa Colla in tow, some might think that second-year Muskego girls basketball coach Brian Hirtz just rolled a few basketballs out on the court the first day of practice and told his players to have at it.
But that's not exactly how it happened.
"He worked so much out of practice," Ellerson said. "He'd make packets of the teams we'd play next. He'd study film, study every single play and told us what they'd be doing. That's where our success came from.
"A lot of people don't really know all the extra work that he put in."
It's Hirtz's extra work that helped the Warriors win 20 of 25 games, claim their second straight Southeast Conference title and advance to the sectional final for the third consecutive season. And his efforts earned him the 2010 NOW All-Suburban Girls Basketball Team's coach of the year award, the second Muskego coach to receive the honor (Ron Kozlowski, 2001) in the team's 21-year history.
Hirtz downplays his role
"It's not me. It's a tribute to the whole coaching staff, and our parents and the overall program," Hirtz said. "I know I'm the head of it all, but it doesn't happen without the support of the coaching staff and the talented players we had. I'm proud to be part of all that and proud of the program we have. Hopefully we can keep it going in the right direction."
Hirtz has done just that since taking over the program two years ago from Duane Mlachnik. Mlachnik led the Warriors to a sectional final at the end of the 2007-08 campaign before taking over the Muskego boys program for one year. In stepped Hirtz, who had served as Muskego's junior varsity coach for three years after coaching for six years in Port Washington, five of which were spent as the Pirates girls varsity coach.
In Hirtz's first year as the Warriors varsity head coach, he guided his squad to a perfect 16-0 mark in the SEC and a 21-2 overall mark, setting the stage for this, another successful season.
Just short of going to state
This season, Hirtz lined up a solid nonconference slate that included games with Nicolet (a loss), Divine Savior Holy Angels (win), Mukwonago (loss) and Milwaukee Vincent (win). The Warriors tied Racine Case for the SEC lead with a 12-2 record, but lost to the Eagles in the sectional final after splitting two regular season games. The loss left Muskego still searching for its first-ever state tournament berth.
"I'm very proud of the season we had," Hirtz said. "I thought we put together one of the most competitive schedules in the area with a lot of state-ranked teams … We fell short of our ultimate goal, but we're not going to let one game define a really good season."
Hirtz understood that with the level of talent he had returning this winter, his role, and that of his staff, was not so much about teaching Xs and Os but rather working on team building and keeping the team focused on the next game.
A coach and a teacher
When he coached, he did so in a way that easily got through to his players.
"He did an amazing job of teaching us everything we needed to do, in a simple way," Ellerson said. "Nothing he said was complicated. It was very easy to understand."
Hirtz knows his biggest coaching challenge could come next year, with Ellerson, Neuberger and Mlachnik off in college.
"The last four years, it was a lot about (the seniors) and how do we get them in positions to be successful," Hirtz said. "We're going to lose a lot of scoring and rebounding. I think it's a different challenge next year.
"Next year it will be a little bit more fundamentals and getting kids in right spots where they can make plays for us," he added. "I'm excited for the seniors. They put in four years of hard work and now move on, and we'll take the next chapter and see what we can do."
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