After taking the reigns six years ago, girls basketball head coach LeeAnn Wise has coached her team to four conference championships in five years. Wise sat down with Richfield Patch editor, and former third-grade student, Caitlin Burgess, to talk about the final tournament game and her thoughts on next season.
Richfield Patch: How did the girls react after losing to DeLaSalle Saturday?
Coach LeeAnn Wise: Well, of course there was sadness and of course they wanted to win the game, but DeLaSalle was good. When you look at the private schools versus the public schools and who goes to them, [you know] it’s going to be tough.
Richfield Patch: What did you say to them after the loss?
Wise: [I just said to them] Look you had 27 wins this year and you did something no one else in Richfield has done.
Richfield Patch: What about those fans? There were almost 40 fan buses that hauled people out to the first tournament game.
Wise: I can’t say enough about the crowd. They were just incredible. We have the same people who come watch the games [throughout the season]. It’s like, this is what you do on Tuesday and Friday nights. I looked around at the tournament and blew a kiss to everyone. They don’t realize how much they energize the players.
Richfield Patch: What is the team’s biggest strength going into next season?
Wise: The memories. There’s already talk about kids wanting to transfer here. While we’re losing two valuable players [to graduation], I think that next year we are going to look different but we still have that core of Jess [January], Hailey [Lindblom] and Sierra [Ford Washington]. We also have some sophomores that we’ve kept together to grow. At this point, the future looks pretty darn good.
Richfield Patch: What is the team’s biggest weakness going into next season?
Wise: Now everyone will want to beat us, and you have to have strong leadership to get through those games. We had that this year with Hannah [Wise] and Jess. Hannah is the kind of kid that isn’t flashy, but she’s going to show you that leadership on and off the court by doing those little things like making posters. She also organized the team’s trophy case. [As for Jess], she is that leader on the court, your go to person on the court. [Since Hannah is graduating], we’ll have to have someone to take on her role.
Richfield Patch: Is it hard for you to separate being a mom and a coach?
Wise: I’ve been coaching Hannah since she was in the first grade, but I’ve always coached, whether it was for her or my two boys. My husband has also always coached, so we do it together. You just try to do the best you can for all the kids. [I think] people don’t appreciate her because she’s the coach’s kid or she’s this or that. But what’s great is that Hannah moved here in ninth-grade and has always felt accepted. It doesn’t matter what you look like, where you come from or what you have, you’re accepted. That’s the beauty of Richfield.
Richfield Patch: What team are you looking forward to playing next season?
Wise: Hill Murray is always at the top of the list, but I’m looking forward to playing Simley again. We really upped our schedule this year by playing some of the 4A schools such as Apple Valley. When you’re winning by 20 points a game, it’s good to play those better teams; that’s how you get better.
Richfield Patch: Do those games against some of the “better” teams help keep the girls from thinking they don’t need to try as hard?
Wise: Oh, I don’t let them have that mentality. Those games where nothing goes your way are going to come, whether or not you’re playing the best team out there.
[On Saturday], we couldn’t make a shot to save our lives. We had to switch up our game plan because it was so hard to make those outside shots. So we were going to focus on lay-ups, but we weren’t even making those. Going from our gym, to Williams Arena and to the Target Center, it was very difficult to adjust.
Richfield Patch: Does solid playing and coaching skills make this team what it is? Or is there more to the story?
Wise: Seventeen out 22 of the players have a 3.0 or above. I’m an educator first, and my girls know that if they get Ds and Fs, they don’t play. It doesn’t matter if you’re a starter. You don’t play. I also encourage them to play spring [and fall] sports because I think it’s important for them to experience different things in their life.
Richfield Patch: What do you want to say to your team now that it’s the off-season?
Wise: Don’t put you shoes away yet! This is not a one-year, run and done thing. Going forward won’t be easy. The off-season is where you develop your self, during the season is where you develop the team.