By Gary R. Rasberry
This past season, the Minster girls basketball team wore shirts that read simply “No Regrets — 28.”
The number represented the maximum amount of games Minster could play this season.
There were no regrets as the Wildcats reached their goal in 27 games, winning the Division IV state title.
And on the sidelines was Nann Stechschulte, the longtime coach of the Wildcats, bringing the team together after ending the previous season in abrupt fashion.
For the comeback from adversity resulting in a 2004 Division IV state title, The Daily Standard named Stechschulte as its Grand Lake Dream Team Girls Basketball Coach of the Year.
Stechschulte becomes the second girls coach from Auglaize County to be named to the honor. New Bremen coach John Storrer was given the honor in 2000, sharing the recognition with then-Fort Recovery coach Lynn (Bihn) Hughes.
“Just the fact that the seniors picked out that slogan says something,” said Stechschulte. “They didn’t want to have any regrets at the end. That’s the way it ended up. It doesn’t always end up that way, that’s for sure.”
The Minster native finished the season 25-2 and is 324-157 in her coaching career. At Minster, she picked up her 240th career win with the Wildcats in the 44-33 win over Mansfield St. Peter’s at the Schottenstein Center in the state final.
The title put Stechschulte in the company of Charlie Maier (Coldwater, 1990, 1992) and Diane McClung (Fort Recovery, 1990-91) as Midwest Athletic Conference coaches winning two state titles and her teams win at the Schottenstein Center made her the first coach to guide teams to all three venues of the girls state tournament — The Schottenstein Center, St. John’s Arena and Akron’s Rhodes Center.
In 2003, the Wildcats entered the postseason after going 18-2 in the regular season and playing Marion Local in the sectional final at New Bremen. A flurry of events at the end of the game ended the season quickly as Marion won 24-22 and went on to win the state title.
“We really graduated 3 1/2 -4 starters because Sunni (Olding) started some games that year,” said Stechschulte. “I knew what kind of kids I had coming back. We had Robyn (Hoying), who was all-state in volleyball, and Sunni, who is all-whatever the heck she is in running. Kristen (Shenk) has been around basketball all her life. Bridget (Slonkoksy) didn’t play the year before and was a question mark. I knew what she did in the summer that if she played, she would solidify the team. When she did come out and played, she filled a missing link.
“That said, I’ve been around long enough to know that teams with great talent don’t make it, sometimes due to injuries and other things. Everything still has to fall into place. It takes a little bit of luck and little bit of other things,” continued Stechschulte.
This year, with some experience coming back mixed in with some young players, the Wildcats were impressive again in the regular season. The Wildcats again ended the season 18-2 — with an early loss to Covington and then a loss to national powerhouse Chaminade-Jullienne the lone blemishes — and this time faced Marion Local for the district title.
“There were two incidents, one after the Covington game and one after the Russia game, After that, the team was on automatic pilot,” said Stechschulte. “No question. They knew what they wanted. Coming back from the District 8 banquet, I think Karen Brackman put it best. She said she was never nervous through the tournament. Never once did she think that they weren’t going to win. That’s a statement coming from a junior. That summed it all up.”
The camaraderie of the team extended off the court.
“One quote I like to use is ‘Appreciate one another’s strengths and respect one another’s differences,’” said Stechschulte. “This team didn’t have a lot of differences. If they did, they resolved them. They had spaghetti parties and pasta parties and we had Christmas parties. They did a lot of things together. I think that builds the chemistry.”
Stechschulte has one of the most experienced assistant corps in the area. Junior varsity coach Mike Wiss has been on the sidelines for seven years and assistant Dennis (Duff) Hemmelgarn (18 years experience) and freshman coach Steve Blackburn (29 years experience) were at one time or another, varsity coaches.
“Duff is the heart of the program, Mike is the brains and Steve, who was in his first year of coaching the freshman, is the stress relief of the team,” said Stechschulte with a laugh. “This was probably the easiest year, because each one of the coaches, basically knew the role and did it. Even the chemistry of the coaching was terrific. It was easy.
“I’m not taking the credit because it starts below. It’s continuity when you add all those years up. Duff doesn’t get any extra money coming up, after he’s finished with eighth-grade, to practice and games and staying the rest of the year. He does that and knows what we want and that’s huge. He starts them down there and teaches the game, the offense and defense we believe. Mike is an absolute teacher of the game,” praised Stechschulte.
For Stechschulte herself, she had plenty of feelings as the clock ran out in the state final.
“It was a humbling experience,” said Stechschulte. “You know how difficult it is and how many things have to go right. It’s a total effort from the kids themselves, the coaching staff and the parents. You have to find enough people to care and you have to find them from all those different directions. You have to be thankful to have enough people to care and have enough people committed to a cause to become the best they can be. Being thankful is what you are.”