Finding himself with two assistant coaches who weren't really sure they were ready to take over the Tonganoxie High softball program on an individual basis, athletics director Brandon Parker floated the idea of Debbie Himpel and Craig Lohman sharing the role during the 2006 season.
"We decided to do it together for one year and see how it goes," Himpel said.
Looking back, it's hard to argue with the results.
The two-headed tutelage didn't just engineer a turnaround, but the best season in Chieftains history -- a 20-4 record, a share of the Kaw Valley League championship, and most impressive of all, a debut appearance in the Class 4A state tournament.
Which, in turn, has led to one more honor for the program -- the coaching duo's selection as the Journal-World's All-Area Softball Coaches of the Year.
The unusual coaching arrangement wasn't the only wrinkle Tonganoxie had to work through in 2006. The varsity roster included no seniors -- usually a kiss of death for a team trying to rebound from a sub-.500 season.
So perhaps it was a case of ignorance is bliss once spring arrived.
"When we had our preseason meeting with the girls, I had them fill out a piece of paper with their goals," Himpel said. "Four or five of the girls actually put down that their goal was to go to state.
"We (the coaching staff) wanted that goal, but weren't really sure how realistic that was going to be to achieve."
Lohman said he was appreciative of being selected as a coach of the year.
"I am happy both Coach Himpel and I received it," Lohman said. "That's great. ... It's a great honor.
"It just shows how hard the girls worked, not only for the spring season, but in the past summers."
And, Lohman said, the players deserve much of the praise.
"It wasn't really something we did," Lohman said. "Sure, we were there, but the girls did all the work."
With the breakthrough complete, now comes the difficult task of replicating that success. Lohman has decided to give up his coaching duties, leaving Himpel alone to guide next year's squad.
But Himpel said Monday that she is uncertain she will return.
But with no seniors graduating from the spring season, the goal for 2007 certainly shouldn't be a surprise.
"Hopefully getting that far (to state) will make them hungrier for next year," Himpel said. "They have a taste for it now."
-- Shawn Linenberger (firstname.lastname@example.org) contributed to this story.
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