There is a learning curve for all first-year coaches as well as their players in trying to become a cohesive unit in that initial season. It’s even steeper for rookie mentors.
That’s the position Bryce Tesdahl found himself in a year ago after taking over the New Prague boys’ basketball program.
“We got off to a rocky start while we were feeling each other out,” senior center Zach Hanson said. “We as players, as well as Coach Tesdahl, had to go through that learning curve.”
The Trojans had high expectations but started 1-3. They quickly turned things around, finishing 20-8 after falling to Lakeville North in the Class 4A, Section 1 semifinals.
“Coach Tesdahl did a good job throughout the season,” Hanson said. “It was a good year but could have been better. We didn’t get it done at the end of the year.”
With that fresh in their minds, the returning group of players came back more determined in Tesdahl’s second year. That attitude has led to 11 consecutive victories to open the season, and a No. 7 ranking in Class 4A by Minnesota Basketball News.
“My first season at New Prague was a great learning experience for our players, and probably more importantly myself as a head coach,” Tesdahl said.
“I wasn’t happy at halftime of a 38-point blowout loss at Shakopee, and sat all of my starters and rotational players the entire second half. I truly believe this was the turning point of our season and program.
“After that learning experience, our players improved their attention to detail in practice and execution on both ends of the floor in games. It takes time to build a winning culture and for us, it took some early season losses to figure it all out.”
Success starts on defense for the Trojans, who start five seniors. They are only giving up 50.3 points per game this season.
They are averaging 64 points a night, led by Hanson’s 18.4 points per game. Other starters are twins Jacob and Jared Milinkovich, Jacob Washa and Tyler Lindell.
“Our players are willing to show up any time of the day on any day of the week to improve and work hard,” Tesdahl said. “In this day and age with high school kids, that’s not always the case.
“When you have student-athletes who are willing to not only show up but to work outside of their comfort zone, you have the opportunity to build something special as a coach.”
Tesdahl knows what that is like firsthand. He’s been surrounded by two of the state’s winningest boys’ basketball coaches in Bob McDonald of Chisholm and Dave Galovich of Crosby-Ironton.
McDonald, his retired grandfather, is No. 1 on the state’s all-time victory list with 1,012. Tesdahl played under Galovich, who ranks sixth with 677 after his team started 11-0 as well.
“Grandpa McDonald is the person I envy and look up to the most on a daily basis,” Tesdahl said. “He made an impact on thousands of student-athletes on and off the floor during his coaching and teaching tenure.
“Coach Galovich is one of the most successful coaches in the state and yet not a lot of people mention his name when talking about the best coaches in Minnesota. He prepares his team better than anyone at the high school level.”
Tesdahl realizes he can’t go wrong implementing what those two have accomplished.
“Growing up in a basketball family, the only profession I knew was coaching and teaching,” Tesdahl said. “I was the kid that never left the gym, and fell in love with the game of basketball at a very early age.”
His players love the game, too. Like McDonald and Galovich, he has his squad believing it can win every time it steps on the court.
“We knew we were capable of being 11-0,” Hanson said. “It’s not as surprising as most people would think.
“ We can compete with any team in the state.”