Greenfield — When the clock showed all zeroes and the scoreboard read, "Whitnall 54, Greendale 24," Falcon girls basketball coach Keith Larson finally allowed himself to focus on another number - 300.
As in 300 coaching victories, the milestone he reached with that triumph on Friday night.
"I knew it was there," said Larson, who improved his overall 21-year record at Whitnall and Pius XI High Schools to 300-126. "During the game, though, I wasn't thinking I was coaching to get to 300. It was a conference and division game which we needed to win. The girls were aware of it, too, but we didn't pay much attention to it. The focus was on them and on the game."
After that game had been won, however, it was time for Larson and his team to savor the accomplishment. "It was a lot of fun," he said. "They acknowledged it with an announcement over the PA system, and the crowd applauded. I also talked to some people I haven't seen in a long time."
That included former Whitnall players such as Lisa and Renee Voelkel, Kelly Menden and Kayla Moffatt, along with the parents of Mary Wiczynski, who was out of town.
It was then on the locker room, where a little celebration was held. "We introduced him, and he ran out, like he was in the starting lineup," said forward Kalina Al-Mohareb. "We then had cupcakes and we had a card ready for him. He gave us a little speech and said his motto for the game was that he was not coaching for 300, but coaching for us to win. If we got the victory, then 300 would just add to it."
Larson, the head coach at Whitnall for 12 seasons, said he was proud to reach the landmark number. "This is gratifying," he said. "You get so caught up in the day-to-day that you sometimes lose track of things like that. People get 100 or 200 victories, but 300 or 400 - not many hit that. This is something you can take a lot of pride in doing; it's a good accomplishment. It also tells you that you have to keep working hard."
He said there were several keys to topping the 300 mark. "Longevity, first of all," he said. "It takes a long time to do that. You need to stay consistent with what you believe in, and your players have to buy into it.
"You need support from the administration and the parents. I've also been fortunate to have good people on my staff. It all starts with the freshman team; that keeps the program rolling. You need talent, you need luck and it takes hard work. We really stress the work ethic."
Larson said the satisfaction he receives from being a coach runs deeper than mere victories and losses.
"You get gratification from seeing the girls grow as people, and you see what they do in college and after college," he said.
This year's players were happy to be a part of his reaching 300. "This means a ton to us," Al-Mohareb said. "He coaches us and motivates us on and off the court. He helps us get through the tough times. When I broke a hip last year, he gave me plenty of support."
Guard Alyssa Moffatt added, "He tells us to hustle and work hard, and we do that for him. We know if we work hard, it will show in the games."
The Falcons, who improved to 6-6 in the Woodland Conference and 8-7 overall, made quick work of Greendale in Friday's game, bolting to a 28-14 halftime lead. Al-Mohareb and Rachael Shulta each tallied 11 points and Ashley Markowiak seven.
Whitnall also routed Wauwatosa West, 49-28, on Jan. 25 behind 12 points from Katherine Crivello, nine from Moffatt and eight by Shulta.
"This is all very humbling," the veteran coach concluded.
THE LARSON FILE
Some highlights from Keith Larson's high school coaching career:
SCHOOLS: He coached the freshman and junior varsity girls teams at Pius XI for nine years and has headed the Whitnall girls program for 12 seasons
CONFERENCE TITLES: His Falcon teams won Woodland Conference division championships in the 2007-08 season and again in 2008-09
STATE: Whitnall made the WIAA Division 1 State Tournament in 2005, falling to Milwaukee Riverside in the quarterfinals.
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