Like many players, Libertyville High School's Kaca Savatic was a little uneasy about her promotion to the varsity as a sophomore. She admitted she was uncomfortable meeting head coach Kathie Swanson.
"I was intimidated,'' Savatic recalled. "I was so nervous. She had such high expectations. But once I got to know her she had reasons for doing everything."
Savatic has completed her days playing varsity basketball at Libertyville. And she'll have plenty of memories of team that won 48 out of its last 51 games.
After a marvelous 29-1 season, the IBCA (Illinois Basketball Coaches Association) announced for the second year in a row that Libertyville coach Swanson is again the District 6 3A/4A co-coach of the year.
"It's very nice for the IBCA for both of those years,'' Swanson said.
A two-time winner of this prestigious award, where did Liberyville find a coach like this?
"She stepped into a conference with some very experienced coaches and has been competitive from the get go,'' said former Libertyville head coach Bill Mix. "Over the years I've seen a number of young first year coaches get overwhelmed. That never happened to Kathie. She continues to get better."
This is not a coach who is driven by ego. Swanson seems to thrive behind the scenes.
"I just love teaching kids,'' she said. "I've always had a love for basketball. Practice is what's it all about."
"There is no me in Kathie,'' said former Antioch coach Don Zeman. "Everything is always about the girls and the LHS program. Far too many coaches want to make it all about them. For a young, and very successful coach, Kathie has a tremendous amount of humility."
It's not like Swanson coached at a major university before taking this job. She worked her way up coaching park district ball.
"I was coaching Freshman A, and before I knew it, I was doing varsity,'' she said. "I'm fortunate to get a great group of kids who were willing to listen. We weren't the biggest or strongest team."
Swanson was able to tap the coaches around her for help. Mix Zeman, Melissa Gorski and Greg Pedersen all checked in with advice.
Zeman guided the freshman team at Libertyville.
"Like many successful people in any position of leadership, Kathie is a stickler for details,'' Zeman said. "I have not been associated with a coach who is as organized as Coach Swanson. Whether its planning activities for every grade third through 12th in summer camps or preparing practice plans for the varsity, Kathie spells out every detail of what will take place, not only identifying the drill or routine, but also spelling out what specific things to be gained and to watch for in those activities."
Unlike some coaches, Swanson does not teach in the Libertyville building. That can make things uneasy but it seems to have worked at Libertyville.
"That's a credit to my assistant,'' Swanson said. "Melissa [Gorski] has done a great job with that."
Of course the folks in the building are aware of her success.
"Kathie deserves this award, as the team had a wonderful season,'' said Briant Kelly, Libertyville athletics director. "Kathie dedicates much of her time to the program during the season and in the off-season. She prepares the players both mentally and physically for each game and that showed with the undefeated regular season. Kathie has earned the respect from her players by her hard work and dedication."
Savatic knew her club lost a few key seniors heading into this season. Instead, her club worked hard on defense and set a school record for wins.
"We didn't even miss a beat,'' Savatic said. "She still figured out a way for us to be successful."
Well now that the bulk of the Libertyville stars have moved on, what's Swanson going to do for an encore?
"We won't be in full rebuilding mode,'' Swanson said. "Our sophomore group went undefeated. But there is a big difference between sophomore and varsity."
Leading next year's team will be a two-time IBCA coach of the year.
"LHS has seen some great coaches, boys and girls, and I have had the honor of having coached against them,'' Zeman said. "Kathie has established herself as their equal, but you will never hear it from her. She lets her actions and more importantly her teams' actions speak for her."