Steve Hluchnik adapted to lead Oak Creek girls basketball team to state title

Named All-Suburban Coach of the Year

With the coveted state championship trophy behind him, Oak Creek girls basketball coach Steve Hluchnik talks to the crowd at a pep rally for the team on April 1. Hluchnik is NOW Newspapers’ 2013-14 Coach of the Year for leading his team to the state title.

With the coveted state championship trophy behind him, Oak Creek girls basketball coach Steve Hluchnik talks to the crowd at a pep rally for the team on April 1. Hluchnik is NOW Newspapers’ 2013-14 Coach of the Year for leading his team to the state title. Photo By C.T. Kruger

April 8, 2014

In his 10 years of trusting Steve Hluchnik to coach his freshmen teams well, retired West Allis Central baseball coach Dan Gaynor recognized something important in the emotional, dedicated and driven former multi-sport athlete, somebody who he himself coached years before at Central.

"He was always a very cerebral guy in terms of athletics, a very sharp mind in terms of analyzing the opposition, in formulating a game plan and being able to manipulate and modify what you normally do into something that would be more effective," Gaynor said of Hluchnik. "I wasn't always known as a great innovator, but he (Hluchnik) is."

And adapting, and being able to work with the talent that he has on hand and getting that talent to perform at the highest level it is capable of has been a trademark of Hluchnik — be it in his time with the Central baseball programs, or in his time with the Central girls basketball team where he brought up a former moribund program into a competitive state.

You can see it in his hard-charging nature as the defensive coordinator of the Oak Creek football team, an effort that included the 2012 Southeast Conference championship and you most definitely saw it this past winter, when he took a motivated and talented Oak Creek girls basketball team all the way to the WIAA Division 1 state title, the first in the school's history.

For that, he has earned both Associated Press State Coach of the Year as well as NOW Newspapers' All-Suburban Coach of the Year honors as he raised his five-year mark at Oak Creek to 105-25 (.807 winning percentage).

"He just knows how to coach," said Knights all-state forward Stephanie Kostowicz. "We're lucky to have him. He really cares. He gets on you when you do something wrong. There are not a lot of people out there who really do that. He gets the most out of us that he can."

The running joke around those who know Hluchnik is he's always on his kids and he's always on the officials. He's always yelling. Every picture of him is like that, but even Kostowicz and fellow all-state forward Tamya Sims have noted that in the last three years or so, Hluchnik has calmed down a bit.

"You can tune him out a little at times," chuckled Kostowicz

"Just don't upset me," is his laughing response. "I've always been a competitor. Everyone who wants to win is. I always like to be there when the game is on the line, but I've changed a little. I've toned it down. Today's kid doesn't react as well (to constant yelling).

"It was trial and error. Coach Gaynor talked to me about it, about toning it down a little. So I talk to the parents, I discuss expectations and we go from there."

It's been a remarkable road.

Hluchnik arrived in Oak Creek for the 2009-10 season to a program that was overflowing with talent but one that needed some direction.

"In the interview, I talked about the job I did at Central (with the basketball team) and how I had turned it around a bit," he said.

He's always relied on good senior leaders to be the conduit of his ideas. That year, he had the great guard Angela Rodriguez. He talked to her before the season, noted what he expected of her and the team.

"I told her I was big on structure," he said. 'We had a lot of open gyms, we had a lot of meetings and I believe we got the maximum that we could out of those kids and we went from there."

Rodriguez was slowed with a mid-season injury for a time, but she came back late in the year.

"We got on a roll and went from there," Hluchnik said. "It was funny that year started a little trend for us of beating teams the year before they won the (state title). We beat Nicolet in the sectional semifinal (when they had been ranked first in the state) before losing to Pius."

Nicolet would win a state title in 2010-11.

A year later, Sims came into camp as a tall, skinny freshman and immediately made an impression.

"She was even skinnier than she is now, but right away you could tell she was something," said Hluchnik.

With her arrival, the die was cast for the future as Kostowicz made varsity the following year. In the next couple of seasons, the Knights would be strong but would run into powerful teams from Racine Case. The great center Ashley Luke would be the fulcrum for these squads.

"I knew we just had to be patient," Hluchnik said. "You couldn't think in terms of negatives."

Last year, with Kostowicz and Sims as juniors, a semblance of a breakthrough came about. A conference title, a No. 1 seed in the WIAA sectional, but the injury to point guard Morgan Kokta and the subsequent loss to Franklin in the now storied sectional semifinal took the edge off everything and provided the catalyst for this season.

The motivated Knights got even more energy from tough one-point losses to powers Kimberly and Pewaukee this season, but they were relentless in the Southeast Conference. Even archrival Franklin was given little chance to breath, especially when the two met in the sectional semifinal again with Oak Creek winning in dominant fashion.

Oak Creek's now legendary rally against Kimberly in the state semifinals and the glorious win over Superior in state finals that followed did not surprise Franklin coach Tony Kathrens. He's seen a lot of what Hluchnik can do with a team in the last five years.

"Who does know better than me?" Kathrens laughed. "I really admire what he was able to do there. Just from an observer's point of view, you could see how he kept his cool. He kept calm. He had those kids so ready to do this. That's what was so impressive."

Now the old master strategist Hluchnik is looking to see what he can do with a much younger and shorter team next season. One thing is for sure: he's not going to let up.

"There will still be (high) expectations," he said. "We'll meet in a couple of weeks (with the returning kids) and go over the summer stuff. We'll just be a lot more guard-oriented next year.

And about that hard-charging personality?

"Nah, I'm not going to change too much," he laughed.

To read Steven L. Tietz's column on the pep assembly held last week that honored the Oak Creek girls basketball team's state title see OakCreekNOW.com.

Most Popular

Advertisement

CONNECT    

Advertisement

Latest Photo Galleries