The St. Mary's girls basketball team lost everything short of Rylee Paterson and the school mascot, but Herb Besaw figures he has at least one thing going for him.
He knows the players.
"The girls that are going to be freshmen this year was the first tournament team that I started working with, so I've known those girls for five years," said Besaw, who was hired last month as the Panthers' head coach, replacing Ryan Berg, who stepped down in March after nine years at the helm. "I've got one player (Paterson) coming back that's really had any what I would call varsity experience. I know the numbers are going to be small, but I know a lot of the kids."
Besaw and his wife, Jane, who works at Buena Vista University, moved to Storm Lake from Laurens in 1990. The couple have two children who attend St. Mary's, Callie, an eighth grader, and Kyle, a fifth grader.
"Since my daughter's been going to St. Mary's since preschool, I've been an avid St. Mary's fan," Besaw said. "I think I've been to every game other than just a few, and I've had no kids (at the high school level) - I just like the sports. I love to support them."
A Graettinger High and BVU graduate, Besaw has coached various sports at the high school level at Graettinger (before it consolidated with Terril) and Laurens-Marathon but he'd never held a top varsity post before taking the head L-M boys golf job last spring.
He guided the Chargers - who were last in the Twin Lakes three years prior - to a middle-of-the-pack league finish and third place at districts last spring.
But this is admittedly the highest profile coaching job for Besaw, who inherits a team that graduated all its starters after producing the best record in school history (20-5), tying Newell-Fonda for the Northwest Conference title and rattling off 15 straight wins before losing to eventual 1A champion Graettinger-Terril in the regional semifinal.
"My main obstacle is going to be to play basketball in my philosophy. Coach Berg's been there for quite a few years," Besaw said. "He's a well-liked and well known person, and I'm going to come in, and my philosophy's not going to be what he had, but the girls that are going to be playing haven't had that opportunity to play, so maybe that's a blessing on one side.
"That and the overall getting the community to know what I'm about. I've been around but no one's really known me unless they had kids."
Which actually means quite a few people know him. Besaw, a 43-year-old self-described entrepreneur and community activist, has been "a very good St. Mary's supporter for a lot of years," St. Mary's athletic director Tracy Schultz said. "He has a passion to build the program. He has a lot of experience working with kids and youth programs over the years."
Besaw has served as the president of the softball board in Storm Lake. He's coached several traveling tournament teams in basketball and softball since the early 1990s.
"If I'm not on the board," he says, "I'm always one of the individuals who's involved with what's going on in youth and high school sports."
Besaw likened this coaching situation to his first year of helping out Graettinger's football team as a student assistant. The school had won 35 straight games when Besaw graduated the previous spring.
"We'd lost everybody basically. The first year I was involved (as a coach) I think we won two games," he said. "It was difficult because at that time Graettinger was known as the traditional team in the conference, and for the first time it was just a different feeling. It was the same (head) coach but you could see how he had to change how he coached versus 'I've got athletes and all I've got to do is basically put them out there and tell them, just do it.'"
The Panthers aren't likely to go 25-0 and win their league, "but the second time around I want to make sure we improve on that second game, and by the end of the year I want people to think the girls did well," Besaw said. "We'll have our own team goals. I'm hoping we can be competitive. Keeping them confident, keeping them wanting to be there and work hard will be key. When I first started watching St. Mary's, to be honest with you, they weren't very good.
"They might have won one game, two games the first year I watched them."
Panther fans can expect to see a lot of pressing in years to come, if not during the first couple seasons in which numbers project to be low. They'll see motion-flex offenses and box-and-1 and man-zone defenses.
"I like to strategize a lot," said Besaw, who knows the league's coaches and their tendencies and has essentially scouted them in recent years. "I'm going to always try to take something away from the other team. If they're going to beat me, they're going to beat me by not doing what they do to everybody else 15 times in a row. My philosophy is I want to score. We won't probably do a lot of halfcourt sets, which is different than what (Berg) did."
One of the greatest coaching rewards for Besaw is the appreciation he gets from kids he worked with over the years.
"You go back and they remember those times, and still talk about it yet today," he said. "It's small talk, but it's kind of neat. It's not always the athleticism or the win-lose. There's a lot of other things I think leadership-wise I can help the girls respond to, and just life in general."