ANNAWAN -- When he joined the Annawan girls' basketball coaching staff five years ago, Jason Burkiewicz encountered a program that held a No. 1 state ranking for the first time ever.|
As he ascended from assistant to head coach, the consistency remained.
Burkiewicz remembers how good the program was when he first started, something he acknowledged during the Bravettes' welcome-home celebration of their Class 1A third-place 30-3 team on Sunday afternoon. In recent seasons, the small-town program has consistently competed with the state's best in Class 1A.
How is that possible?
"It's just the excitement that is created," Burkiewicz said. "The little kids see it. Then, they go home and pick up a ball."
A member of Spring Valley Hall's 1998 Class A state runner-up team, Burkiewicz said the town was captivated by that run and spurred interest in the program. Annawan has won back-to-back sectional titles and the program's first-ever state trophy, which obviously sparks interest in the elementary schools.
What is unique about this run is the process it took for it to happen. The current junior class that features four starters began working toward the postseason success when they were in third grade.
Since that started, Annawan has committed to maintaining a solid feeder system.
"We never neglect our lower levels," Burkiewicz said.
The community would not let that happen, which is why the team made sure to thank its supporters for this stretch of success.
"When these girls talk about the community and parents, it all stems from that," said Annawan assistant Val (Wancket) VanHyfte, who coached the eighth-grade team for seven years. "We ask a lot. ... The parents got on board and we did everything extra."
Strong coaches also help the development. VanHyfte, a 2,000-pointer scorer and all-stater at now-defunct Atkinson, and sophomore coach Caitlyn Corwin are two of the pieces to the puzzle.
"It's hard to find good people who really know what to teach at the lower levels," Burkiewicz said. "The girls were that much ahead when they got to high school. That's been a huge lift for me as a coach and the program as a whole."
Another key component in this cycle is lineage and depth. Burkiewicz jokes about replacing one player one season with her sister the next, a regular occurrence in recent years. On top of that, Annawan can develop a whole team since these kids have played together for years.
A perfect is example is the Bravettes winning the super-sectional with all-state center Celina VanHyfte hampered by a severe ankle sprain.
"You can't win a conference championship or sectional without support," Val VanHyfte said. "That's why it was proven that other people step up big."
All that leads to a run that should be strong for several more years.
"I'm looking as far down as seventh grade right now and I see enough talent to be competitive," Burkiewicz said. "We're going to have talent for a long time. It's a matter of continuing to play as a team and staying together."
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