by peter jackel
Ten years ago, an unforgettable man was creating an unforgettable era in Waterford.
The late Joe Whitford, a loving man with a penchant for wearing cowboy boots to practice, was six weeks from leading the Waterford High School girls' basketball team to its first WIAA state title at this time in 1985. Cancer would claim Whitford in February 1987, but what he left behind can never be taken away - a 175-46 record from 1977 until he left the team in December 1986, seven consecutive conference championships, six regional championships, a state runnerup trophy in 1986 and an incredible mark of 110-8 over his last five seasons.
Ten years later, there's another coach at Waterford who's proving himself to be no ordinary Joe.
This one is named Joe Moravchik and while it would be way too premature to say Waterford is on the verge of recapturing its past glory, this much can be said: He at least appears to have the Wolverines on the right track.
After inheriting a program in the fall of 1993 that had won just two games the previous season, the 27-year-old Moravchik led Waterford to a 10-10 record in 1993-94. And after splitting its first eight games this season, Waterford has gone 6-0 in 1995, improving to 10-4 overall and 8-2 in the Southern Lakes Conference.
"He changed things," said TrishaBreitlow, the Wolverines' leading scorer and rebounder. "Practices became more structured and everybody took it more seriously. He just really drove home that if we worked hard, we could do it. He talks a lot about pride and how we can make the school and community proud of us."
Moravchik, a native of Milwaukee, credits a year he spent as an assistant at perennially-powerful Shiprock High School in New Mexico in 1992-93 for much of his success. Coaching under Vicki Streets, a former All-American guard at Oklahoma, Moravchik learned, "the dedication it takes year 'round to produce a winner. It's dedication and weightlifting on a year-round basis. I also learned some excellent organizational skills."
Barb Deichl, an assistant under Whitford who is now an athletic director at the school, isn't about to predict a second coming of the glory days. But she does see some similarities between Whitford and Moravchik.
"We were blessed during those years with a great bunch of kids and a coach who cared very deeply about them," Deichl said. "Joe (Moravchik) also cares very much about the kids on and off the court. He's a very, very caring individual."
This year's team has been built around four seniors - Breitlow, Sarah Dienberg, Erin Bills and Amy Eads - and junior Jessica Price. The team suffered a major setback when Dienberg was lost for the season recently with what is believed to be a torn tendon in her right knee, but Moravchik is confident reserves Heather Lewis and Michelle Hurley, among others, can fill the gap.
Where do the Wolverines go from here?
"I think we're just starting to get things established," Moravchik said. "The key is how the younger kids respond and I'm anticipating that they'll respond well."
Working double time
It's not just straight times that place Horlick senior John Stevens among the premier swimmers in the state. One must also look at the circumstances Stevens faces each time he competes.
Stevens competes in the 100-yard breaststroke and is barely able to catch his breath before he must get back in the water and swim a leg of the freestyle relay. Some well-known city swimmers have tried that demanding double over the years and have seen their effectiveness drastically reduced.
"To put out 100 percent to win the backstroke and then come back to give 100 percent in the freestyle relay when all his teammates are counting on him is a tremendous accomplishment," Horlick coach George Lehman said. "I've had some people fold under those circumstances and John never has. It takes a special person to be able to do that and still pull off top-quality times.
Stevens has done that, especially in the 100 freestyle, where he has broken 50 seconds several times this season. Lehman feels Stevens has a legitimate chance to medal at the state meet in at least one of these events: the the 100 freestyle, the 200 individual medley and the 100 breaststroke.