It was the second game of the season. One of Waterloo Junior High basketball coach Mark Vogel’s players was at the free throw line.
“I was instructing them and they told me, ‘Shh coach, we are shooting a free throw and it needs to be quiet.’ It was then, I knew I was coaching girls,” Vogel said and laughed.
After 22 years of coaching boys sports, 12 years at the eighth grade boys basketball level and eight at the seventh grade level, coach Vogel is now stepping into a new realm: coaching the Waterloo Junior High School seventh grade girls basketball team.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” said Vogel. “I have really enjoyed it. It has been a good change of pace for me.”
Not knowing what to expect before the season began, Vogel leaned on some of the area’s greats, who coached both genders in Waterloo’s Bill Theobald, Freeburg’s Fred Blumberg and Red Bud’s Tony Ringering, for advice.
“They basically just said have patience and that you will have to explain things differently,” Vogel relayed. “But girls will run through a brick wall for you. If you are dedicated and if they know you have their best interest at heart, they all said the same thing; that you will enjoy it.”
And Vogel says he has really liked it, finding things he did not expect.
“I think the main difference is that girls are very coachable. They listen to every word you say and try to go out and do the best that they can in every drill and every situation.”
That dedication has led to a successful season for Vogel and his Bulldogs.
The seventh grade girls are currently undefeated with just one game left against Collinsville on Dec. 20. The eighth grade girls tied as co-champions of the Cahokia Conference with Columbia, putting them in the running for the conference title for the second time in school history that Vogel can recall. Columbia and Waterloo finished the regular season 12-1, with each of their losses coming against one another.
The success is another thing Vogel did not expect.
“For years, we have struggled in girls basketball and a lot of it had to do with girls just not playing enough at an early age. With this seventh and eighth grade group, you can tell the difference.”
Vogel also says he credits the program’s recent success to eighth grade girls basketball coach Krista Adams and Waterloo High School girls basketball coach Matt Lucash. Both of them have put in a lot of time over the summer, which Vogel says has made the girls better basketball players.
“I think our girls basketball program is heading in the right direction,” he said.
But some of Vogel’s players may give him a little bit of credit for their success as well.
“He is a really good coach, a lot of fun and he makes us practice really hard so we can win games,” seventh grade basketball player Sydney Luedeman said of her coach.
One of Vogel’s coaching styles that he has transitioned from boys to girls is his “vocal” approach. It’s a style Vogel says has always worked for him with the guys.
“He said that it is a lot of fun coaching girls for the first year, but he does go a little softer on us because we are girls and he goes a little hard on the boys,” Luedeman’s teammate Sydney Bockhorn said.
“I really got on one of them the other night,” Vogel said. “To their credit, and Sydney Luedeman’s credit, they handled it pretty well. So they really weren’t fazed by it. But to be honest, I really haven’t had to do that with the girls. Here we are sitting at (14-0) and are doing a lot of things right.”
Despite the team’s success there is another difference that has stuck out for Vogel heading up the girls team.
“Boys are fans of the game. They will talk about a game they saw on TV the night before. I don’t get the sense that most girls watch the sport, they just like participating and are very active.”
Coaching the girls has come more natural than he thought and it works better in conjunction with his other coaching duties. Vogel says he left coaching boys junior high basketball because the season stretched into late January and began to conflict with his baseball coaching responsibilities. Whereas, the junior high girls season ends right before Christmas.
But Vogel says the girls’ scheduling is not the only thing that has helped him in his coaching career.
“I think it has helped me as well. Having to explain things differently, having to approach it differently is only going to help continue to make me a better coach.”
The eighth grade girls are currently competing in the Cahokia Conference Tournament. The Waterloo girls defeated Red Bud on Monday, 32-10, and will play Freeburg in the semifinals on Wednesday at Red Bud at 6 p.m. Also on Monday, Ss. Peter and Paul fell to Columbia 41-7. The Eagles will face New Athens on Wednesday following the Waterloo game.