Pytleski, Walker start Jags’ new era

GRANADA — Rick Uttech and Brian Borkenhagen combined for nearly 53 years of head coaching experience for the Jaguars basketball programs.

With both gone, this season begins a new era of basketball as T.J. Pytleski takes the helm of the Granada-Huntley-East Chain/Truman/Martin Luther girls team and Adam Walker moves up to be the head coach of the Truman/Martin Luther/ Granada-Huntley-East Chain boys team.

Both are first-time head coaches, with this being Pytleski’s first time coaching at the high school level. He has previous experience coaching elementary and junior high school kids.

“The opportunity came about and I thought, well, if I want to stay with the program, I’d just try being the head coach. So that’s kind of why I applied for it,” Pytleski said.

Pytleski has been in contact with Uttech, saying that the former coach of 39 years has been helpful during the adjustment process.

“With his (Uttech) track record, all of his wins, knowledge and experience and things like that, it’s hard to fill in, but we’ll have to let him go and then we’ll start new and go from there,” Pytleski said.

Pytleski also has help from assistant coach Leslie Wokasch, who was part of last year’s coaching staff and a Martin Luther High School graduate.

“She knows a lot of the girls better than anybody. She’s been a huge asset to have coming back and having her input as well,” Pytleski said.

Haley Schock is another assistant coach and, like Wokasch, a former Martin Luther High School and collegiate basketball player.

Despite the team starting the season 0-4, Pytleski sees where his new team is improving.

“There’s different aspects that obviously we can continue to work on in practice, but I’m happy with the progress that we’ve made. I think it’s coming together,” Pytleski said, adding there’s an advantage of having seniors Macy Quinn, who was a starter on last season’s state-qualifying team, and Emma Becker, who also saw a good portion of playing time last year. “Those two are our captains and have done a good job. They’re encouraging in practice and during games.”

While Pytleski was well-prepared for the basketball side of head coaching, he quickly learned about the responsibilities off the court.

“The other thing is that because we are three schools in one is making sure everything’s at one school,” he added. “Just kind of making sure we have all the equipment, the keys and basketballs, things like that.”

Walker would agree. Whereas Pytleski and the girls team practice in Truman, Walker and the boys team practice in Granada.

“The one thing that’s toughest around this area is having the three schools and making sure there’s one school available, making sure the buses are coming to the right spot and getting a hold of everybody,” Walker said. “That part is tricky, and it’s a lot different coaching at one school compared to three different schools and three athletic directors. … Big shout out to the ADs for helping out.”

Walker, who took the head coaching job in May, is also a student-teacher and receives his masters degree in elementary education from Grand Canyon University today. He student-teaches at Blue Earth Area with sixth-grade teacher and Bucs girls basketball head coach Al Cue.

“We have a lot to talk about every day,” Walker laughed.

Walker was an assistant coach at Peru State College in Peru, Neb., and has been an assistant coach with the Jaguars for the past few years. Becoming a head coach had always been one of Walker’s goals so, much like Pytleski, when the opportunity presented itself, he decided to take it.

Having worked with many of the current players when they played on the ‘B’ and ‘C’ squads, Walker already knew the current varsity group.

“I always kind of joke with the junior class this year: three years in a row of coaching the same kids. I was asking, ‘Are you guys getting sick of me yet?’ They say, ‘No,'” Walker smiled. “Being the assistant coach last year, a lot of the guys came up to me and asked questions and so I was able to build a good rapport with the seniors this year, (and) especially with the juniors and Caden (Fischer) as a sophomore on the varsity.”

The Jaguars boys team is currently 1-4, but Walker hopes to keep improving and help his team hone their skills.

“There’s a lot of guys who are good football players, a lot of guys who are good baseball players, but some of their basketball skills need adjustments. I’m hoping to do a lot of that,” Walker said. “Come playoff time, hopefully, we’ll be peaking.”

Pytleski is also hoping to have a winning record by the end of the year with much of the season still ahead of the squads.

“I’m optimistic that we will have a winning record by the end of the year,” he said. “The other thing is that everybody goes away happy and feels that it was a successful season as far as everybody staying together and working together.”