It took first-year head coach Ashley Imperiale a season to get her point across to her Wauwatosa West girls basketball team.
"When the season started there was a bit of a clash between my team and I," the passionate coach said. "My definition of working hard, dedication, mental toughness were quite different from theirs.
"But it was a great opportunity to work together to build a vision for our program and give them some ownership in building our program and being leaders in carving out the path to where we want to get to."
The Trojans finished with a 10-14 overall record and they finished fifth out of six teams with a 7-10 record in the Woodland Conference West Division.
Imperiale loves winning as much as any coach, but she was also looking to develop more than a championship team.
"I have extremely high expectations and standards that I hold my players to, because to me, accountability and high expectations are how you build a culture of success," she said. "I'll be the first one to admit I love to win and anyone who knows me knows I'm as competitive as they come. I'm a 100 percent believer that success is not solely reflected in a win/loss record, but in the character and growth of a team.
"Do we want to win all the games we play? Absolutely. But just as importantly, my goal for this year was to teach the girls how to be great people. How to problem-solve, persevere and take on and accomplish challenges they never thought they could.
"I wanted to build character by pushing and challenging the girls to new heights and seeing how they would grow and react to these situations."
It didn't take long for the first challenge to show up, as the Trojans dropped their first four games.
"We faced a tough, tough opening few weeks against some of the top teams in our conference and area," Imperiale said. "It would have been really easy for the girls to lose faith in what I was asking of them, but they really bought into my vision, my theme of one and kept working hard.
"As we had more time to practice and learn my offensive and defensive principles, the girls had many shining moments of success on the court that showed our growth as a team."
The Trojans were 4-8 in their first 12 games, losing four, winning four and then losing four in a row, but they finished 6-6 in their last 12 games.
Tosa West beat St. Francis, Greenfield, Greendale and Cudahy, as they played strong defense and started getting their offense to flow.
"We began to recognize where our shot and scoring opportunities were," Imperiale said. "Along with this, I was very happy with how, for the most part, when we played teams the second time through in conference we were a completely different team and competed with teams like Pewaukee."
Because of their improved play, their attitude also changed.
"Our mentality changed," Imperiale said. "We began to believe and buy into our program vision and it showed in our play. The Whitefish Bay game in regionals (a 27-21 loss) is a prime example of our growth.
"We were 100 percent in this game if you compare it to our first game of the year and that's always your goal as a coach, to have your team peak and play its best basketball at the end of the season and get a little bit better each game. We did that this year."
Imperiale will lose five seniors to graduation: Latasha Harmon, Megan Wendelberger, Jess Pike, Sammi Schaaf and Ashley Colebourne.
Juniors Elise Ditscheit, Ashley Lindstrom, Emily Schaefer, Amani Pettiford and Claire Langan and sophomores Abbey Jones and Justice Hawkins and freshmen Emma Clough and Gaby Zabala will return.
Imperiale has a good feeling about her returning talent.
"I'm very excited about our core group of returning players, who have really bought into my vision and my ways. They are hard workers, they are competitors and they want to be coached and be the best they can be."
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