Before the season began, just two coaches ever could say they led Eisenhower's girls basketball team to a regional title.
Amidst an adverse situation, first-year coach Sean Flaherty made sure he was a part of that group by season's end. For that, he's the 2011 Herald & Review Macon County Girls Basketball Coach of the Year.
Most coaches take over a program in the summer with ample time to install systems and schemes then begin practice with a firm grasp of players' names and talents. After being hired in October, Flaherty had none of that on his side.
He didn't let it matter.
Instead, Flaherty spent his time worrying about staying positive, which was necessary after getting destroyed by giants, like Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin or Quincy Notre Dame, after just 15 practices early in the season.
It was an approach that helped erase any trust issues with a new coach and the team's players.
"He didn't get discouraged or anything," Eisenhower senior Kriza Allen said. "Most of the time when teams lose, coaches yell, but he stayed really, really calm and pointed out all the positive things.
"His positive attitude helped keep our heads up."
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Flaherty made a conscious effort to harp on the positive and brush off the negatives when he was hired. He even went as far as talking of that elusive regional title the first day he met the team and brought it back up when the Panthers started 1-10.
The program was looking for the first postseason title since 1993.
"He told us he was willing to learn about us and he said he would do whatever it takes to take us to that next level - to winning the championship - which he really did," Allen said. "He came in and worked with us whether it was coming in early for practice or staying after, he did those things.
"He really showed that he cared and loved being around us."
Flaherty backed up that with his willingness to alter his coaching style, too. It's not every day a coach ditches his principals and playbook in favor of tailoring the style around his players, but that's what Flaherty did. He scrapped his motion offense and zone defense and went with more up-tempo offensive sets and man-to-man defense.
It was a move a younger and more stubborn Flaherty wouldn't have done 10 years ago.
"I am not below or above anything that helps the team win," Flaherty said.
Sure enough, as time went by the Panthers started to click and results started changing. After the brutal start, Eisenhower played well at the Charleston Holiday Tournament against top teams like Teutopolis then won 10 of its final 14 games - included in that was a 43-39 regional title win against Mount Zion.
"I was extremely worried being a senior this year and for him to be our new coach," Allen said. "But his strategy worked. We all bought in and we won a championship."