Coach Wiley preaches teamwork for Central girls basketball team

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Members of the Central varsity girls basketball team include (front, left to right) Lexi Loan, Grace Kuehl, Hannah Asche; (middle) team manager Isabelle Groth, Carly Kluesner, Haley Frieden, Delaney Scherf, Ashlyn Scherf, Alyson Feickert, team manager Karleigh Thorson; (back) head coach Mark Wiley, Fern Diersen, Abigail Cummer, Maci Kluesner, Madison Sylvester, Kaitlyn Wiley and coach Molly Scherf. (Photo by Willis Patenaude)

By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register

After going on postseason runs and reaching the regional finals the last two seasons, Central girls varsity basketball coach Mark Wiley is expecting more of the same this season. 

The 14th-year head coach has taken a love of sports, developed at a young age playing ball against his brothers, and used that to transform the program into a regular contender, winning double-digit games nine times and finishing above .500 seven times since the 2007-2008 season, not to mention last year’s stellar 21-4 record that led to a competitive loss in the Class 1A - Region 3 championship game.  

Armed with a coaching philosophy built around team work ethic, Wiley said, “working hard as individuals to better the team is our ultimate goal every single day.” 

It’s all about building a culture, emphasizing the importance of every individual’s value to the team and the role each player has in the team’s success. Likewise, character is a foundational component of that philosophy, and not just on the court, but off it as well. Whatever you say and do when nobody is watching is a true testament to the character of an individual. “We pride ourselves on being people of character,” he stated. 

Those attributes, ethics and character are motivated by a coach who “loves to plan practice in preparation for games.” While that preparation doesn’t always work when tip-off finally occurs, Wiley believes “giving athletes the necessary plans to prepare mentally” is invaluable as both a basketball lesson and a life one, as well. It’s all motivated by the occasional pre-game quotes and what Wiley described as “a system of basketball that each kid has a comfortability within the game of basketball.” 

This system will surely be tested, as will the team’s ethics and character, by COVID-19. The challenges associated with the virus, proclamations and guidelines are numerous. As was the case with fall sports, winter sports will also see changes in how games are conducted. 

“I think the changes that continually get thrown at school districts to decipher and implement is the toughest part…but the athletes are resilient and we have to prepare for anything in fluid situations like this,” Wiley said. 

A new guideline looks to limit crowd size, and each player is now only allowed to have two spectators in attendance. The team is also wearing masks in practice and during game preparations, as well as adhering to hand and ball sanitization guidelines. 

Additionally, Central has been impacted by some players needing to quarantine, so practices have taken on a new look. 

“We continue to find ways to learn through Google drive folders, workout videos and Hudl. These allow some learning to happen…even if [the player] can’t be with the team at every practice…but we as a team have to support each other through these times,” Wiley explained. 

Another challenge is scheduling, particularly for practices, which becomes problematic with the amount of extra-curriculars some of the athletes are involved in. “It’s absolutely awesome that our students are involved in many things. It also has its challenges to help prepare athletes when they aren’t available for practice,” Wiley said. 

Then there is the loss of last year’s star player, Hannah Erickson, and three other seniors, which creates another unique set of challenges and how to replace that productivity and leadership in the lineup. 

Wiley still plans to push the ball up the court quickly, rely on solid defense to create scoring opportunities, be more efficient from the field and be better at in-game situations. The loss of Erickson and the others means the pressure this season will fall on the shoulders of this year’s seniors, Abby Cummer, Madison Sylvester and Maci Kluesner to lead the team, both on and off the court. 

The team is also constructed of two juniors and six sophomores, which, according to Wiley, provides “good depth at all positions.” 

“I think the biggest lesson from last year is that, when we strive to improve as a team, we will, [and] we have to build the confidence necessary to realize we can overcome adversity,” he said. 

No matter the results, Wiley wants to impress upon the players the value of teamwork, to cherish the opportunity when they step onto the court, and to appreciate the community support and involvement. 

“Teamwork is what is important, especially in our little communities of northeast Iowa. People of our communities have been supportive of Central athletes for decades,” Wiley said. 

As the seasons gets underway, Wiley hopes the court is a place the players can “escape the craziness.” He wants to remind them that “it isn’t where you start, it’s about the journey of improvement and playing together to achieve our goals.” 

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