TEUTOPOLIS — Laurie Thompson couldn't be much happier in her position as Teutopolis girls basketball coach and athletic director.
Her Wooden Shoes (33-5) returned to the Class 2A state championship game this season and were a regular fixture of the AP rankings. It was the team's fourth trip to the state tournament since the 2013-14 season and gave Thompson the Herald & Review Area Girls Basketball Coach of the Year.
“I feel like I have the best job in the world,” Thompson said. “I thought we had an excellent year. We played a pretty tough schedule and we had some great wins and some tough losses that we learned from. Overall we had a good chance of winning state and I’m very proud of them and we had a great year.”
The loss to Chicago Marshall came a year after losing to the Commandos in the semifinals. In this year’s championship game, the Wooden Shoes led throughout until Marshall grabbed the lead in the final minutes.
The message Thompson gave her team in the locker room afterward demonstrated why she is among the best coaches in Central Illinois.
"That was probably one of my toughest games and it was an extremely tough locker room to go into," Thompson said. "I know the girls felt like they let themselves down. I was proud of them. Unfortunately there were some mistakes, but you don’t let one game define you. You don’t let 45 seconds define you.
"I told them, 'You had a great year and you have nothing to hang your heads about. I’m so proud of you, the coaching staff is proud of you. How many other teams in the state want to trade places with you? I know it is tough right now but you will look back and have fond memories with your teammates. Sometimes it isn’t just about basketball. Basketball is important but you have great memories and friends that you have made and you go on the journey together."
Thompson is frequently asked how Teutopolis has built such a strong resumé of success — five state championships and 15 total top three finishes — since the program began in 1978-79. The answer is two-fold: Consistency and defense.
"Honestly it goes back to the beginning of basketball here in town," Thompson said. "We don’t have a lot of turnover in the coaching staff."
T-Town has had four coaches total since it began girls basketball in 1978, and just two — Dennis Koester (1982-2006) and Thompson (2006-present) — in the last 36 years.
Thompson played for Koester, who took T-Town to state 13 times and won five state titles, and was his assistant for several years before taking over when Koester died in 2006.
"I honestly didn’t want to change a whole lot because he was so successful.," Thompson said. "He was big on defense and that’s something I love to preach every night that defense wins championships. I think we really take a lot of pride in our defense and I’ve changed very little in how I teach it from how how Coach Koester taught it. The defense is the main thing."
Instilling the Teutopolis style of basketball — a focus on the fundamentals and defense — begins in middle school.
"I have the advantage at the junior high that those coaches are doing the same thing down there and that is so important when you have an entire staff doing that and then (the players) come to the high school and they have that background knowledge of what we expect," Thompson said.
An environment of success can build upon itself to reach an even higher level of achievement.
"Our goal is always to get to the state tournament and we have a lot of banners in our gym and those banners are for teams that worked hard, not just on their individual game, but being a team player," Thompson said. "It’s important that they see that and to let them know that now they work for your banner. Our goals are lofty. I think goals can be lofty if they are attainable and I think we can beat any team in the state."