Coach looks to keep making Kewpies better

Thursday, March 11, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 12:33 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Tonya Mirts doesn’t fret about the mice in her office.

A few cockroaches are a nuisance.

When Mirts lies in bed at night, there’s one thing on her mind: How can the Hickman girls’ basketball team, ranked ninth in the USA Today poll and winner of 18 straight, get better?

In her 10th season at Hickman, Mirts has coached the Kewpies (29-1) to their third state tournament since 2000. The Kewpies play Lee’s Summit (23-5) in the Class 5 semifinals at 6:20 p.m. Friday in Hearnes Center.

Mirts’ other state appearances came in 2000 and 2002. The Kewpies placed second in 2002. Hickman lost to Springfield Kickapoo in the quarterfinals in 2001 and 2003.

Mirts, Kewpies excited about semifinals appearance

“It’s an exciting time,” Mirts said. “I think I’m thinking about basketball 24 hours a day.”

Mirts’ zeal for basketball is evident on the court. She’s intense. She’s spirited.

One minute she’s on her feet encouraging her players and the next she’s squatting, analyzing the game.

“She absolutely loves it,” assistant coach Courtney Diehl said. “She never stops teaching people what she knows. She’s so passionate about the game and all of her athletes are so excited to be there.”

Diehl knows from experience. She played at Hickman in the 1994-95 and 1995-96 seasons, Mirts’ first seasons as coach.

Janelle Riley played for Hickman from 1998-2001 and also returned as an assistant coach.

“I started out wanting to win every game because I’m extremely competitive,” Mirts said. “I was very tough and very demanding. If I’m high-strung now, I was extremely high-strung then. Through the years, I’ve mellowed a little bit.”

Players enjoy Mirts' intensity

Senior guard Jodi Bolerjack appreciates Mirts’ frame of mind.

“She’s intense during the games and practice,” Bolerjack said. “But she also has her side where she jokes around with us.”

Bolerjack said Mirts’ jovial nature is especially evident before the district tournament when Mirts hosts a karaoke and pingpong party.

“It’s not like you have to be serious all the time,” Bolerjack said. “She’s got a good mix.”

Hickman also has a good combination. With eight seniors, including a solid point guard, stellar outside shooters and a strong post game, the Kewpies have a good chance to win a state championship.

The Kewpies have spent time together on the track, in the weight room and at camps. They’re together during the holidays and spend four or five nights together during the offseason.

“I think that’s where a lot of games are won and lost,” Mirts said. “You know everybody’s practicing come November. These kids have invested in each other as a group four years ago. We’ve become a family. You can see the looks on these kids faces that they really enjoy each other.”

Diehl attributes the Kewpies’ family atmosphere to Mirts’ sacrificial and sympathetic nature.

Mirts more than just a basketball coach

She helps kids with their homework. She offers encouragement when a player has a rough day. She gives rides.

“She does everything in her power to help them,” Diehl said.

Bolerjack can vouch for that.

When Bolerjack tore her left anterior cruciate ligament before the 2002-03 season, Mirts helped in the recovery process.

Mirts went to Bolerjack’s doctor appointments. She picked Bolerjack up before school and opened the training room to help Bolerjack rehab.

“To be an adult and work with them and share with them, it’s just untouchable,” Mirts said. “It’s a great experience.”

Mirts dream of coaching basketball and teaching was fostered in her hometown of Douglas, Wyo.

In high school, Mirts played on three state championship basketball teams. Mirts also played at Missouri under Joann Rutherford.

“I love the game of basketball, and it’s a great avenue to teach,” Mirts said. “These kids are smart. They’ve played enough basketball that if you show them what a team wants to do they pick up on it pretty quickly. Confidence comes from preparation and they know they’re going to be very well prepared.”

Mirts stresses preparation and hard work on and off the court.

“Whatever you do, you’ve got to work hard,” Mirts said. “I think that’s one of the things they’ll say about our program, ‘It’s hard work.’ It just doesn’t happen. If it wasn’t so hard it wouldn’t be so special. It’s neat to see them come to that realization.

“It’s been fun but it’s not over yet and that’s the special thing. I think I’ll take a breather when the season is over for a little while but we’ve got to get back to work come summertime.”

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