Only 18 seconds remained in regulation when Bartlett’s girls came to the bench for a timeout during their tied sectional finale against Wheaton-Warrenville South.
“We knew we were going to have to play the best defense we could to win it, and when we came over to the bench I can’t even explain the look in coach (Denise) Sarna’s eyes,” recalled Bartlett senior guard/forward Haley Videckis. “It was just that she was smiling, because she knew we were going to stop them and send it into overtime. She had confidence in us.
“She had a real connection with us and it was great knowing that she believed in us all the time. It made us believe in ourselves.”
The Hawks won that game in OT after preventing a Wheaton-Warrenville shot in the final seconds of regulation, then went on to the school’s second state basketball trophy, for third place.
For coaching the Hawks to a school-best 32-2 record and third in the state, and for instilling the positive coach-player feeling needed for success, Sarna has been named 2011-12 Courier-News Coach of the Year.
“It was a joy coaching them,” Sarna said. “This was a team that was so close. With so many seniors, the kind of petty little things that might bother some other teams during a season weren’t even important. They were very focused.”
For Sarna, head coaching success came slowly in terms of wins and losses. She started at Streamwood in 1992-93 and compiled a 20-108 record, without winning more than six games in any of her five seasons. Then her first Bartlett team went 1-27 at the new school in 1998-99, and 9-19 in 1999-2000. But it appeared in 2000-01 the program had kicked into gear with a 15-13 record. Bartlett has had only one losing season since then and in the last 10 years the Hawks have won 20 games or more seven times, including their second-place finish at state in 2004-05 (30-5) and this year’s 32-2 mark and third-place finish. She has a 263-155 record at Bartlett and 283-263 overall record as head coach in 19 seasons after starting out coaching other sports like softball and volleyball at Evanston.
However, Sarna doesn’t measure real success in those won-loss terms.
“Even when I run into kids who played for my Streamwood teams or the first few years here, we have great memories of the fun you have competing and being a team,” she said. “I’ve never looked at high school coaching as something that can be measured in terms of a won-loss record.
“It’s about teaching and relationships and the group and making a commitment to come together as a team.”
It’s still fun winning, and this year’s Hawks were able to do it with a senior-dominated team.
“We’ve got such a great staff,” Sarna said about her assistants, that include Brad Hunt, Bill Murmann, Nicole Jara and Kim Lofton. “They do so much to support the program.
“And the winning goes back even to our feeder program. We have a good feeder system. It’s a good group of parents who coach the teams and get the girls excited about basketball in the community. We have up years and down years talent-wise — it goes in waves. But the interest is there.”
Some teams are easier to coach than others, but when one handles pressure like this year’s team, which had eight seniors, the coach’s job can get easier.
“I would say it was a coach’s dream, but there is always more pressure when the kids are all seniors,” Sarna said. “They don’t have another season to get it done.”
Sarna and the Hawks overcame a key ankle injury to guard Janessa Baker, that healed in time for the postseason. They earned a share of a second straight conference title before the postseason run.
Now Sarna, also the C-N Coach of the Year in 2005, is already looking ahead.
“Liz Arco (6-1 sophomore forward), who was behind Lisa Palmer and Kristin Conniff, and Haley’s little sister Kendra, and Ashley Johnson (sophomore) and others have been beaten up good in practice by the seniors in practice and now they’ll be looking forward to getting their turn,” Sarna said.
At Bartlett, the beat keeps on going.