Brechtl grew up in Waterford, became Wolverine coach when injury ended playing career

Dena Brechtl advanced to a sectional final as a player, assistant coach and head coach. (Rick Benavides/Waterford Post)

 

By Tim Wester

Sports Correspondent

A 1-9 record with an inexperienced team struggling to figure out varsity basketball seems like impending doom for a season.

Or does it?

Certainly not to Waterford girls basketball coach Dena Brechtl.

Brechtl’s faith in her team never wavered as the Wolverines answered a 1-9 start with a 9-7 finish. But even more memorable was Waterford’s dramatic playoff run that included three victories and a regional championship.

Waterford even gave top-seeded Jefferson all it could handle before falling short 39-33 in the sectional semifinals.

For her masterful work in leading one of the biggest turnarounds in the state, Brechtl is the clear choice for the Southern Lakes Newspapers Girls Basketball Coach of the Year.

“It’s a great honor to be nominated,” Brechtl said. ”My family is very supportive with my kids loving being around my team and my husband doing the team stats. They are as invested as myself and the coaches.”

Brechtl grew up in Waterford and played sports through high school. Her connection to Waterford was rekindled after she took a teaching position here following her graduation from UW-Parkside in 2004.

“Waterford is so wonderful and has great teachers and kids,” she said. “I love being a part of the school in the community. A handful of my teachers from school were still teaching when I came back, but I quickly realized I fit right in here.”

 

Playing career cut short

Waterford is also the place where Brechtl first learned how to handle adversity. After a shoulder injury ended her high school basketball career and altered her plans to play basketball at UW-La Crosse, Brechtl was searching for answers.

“I got injured my senior year with shoulder dislocations, and my doctor said I had to be done,” she said. “Devastation set in and it felt like the worst thing that ever happened in my life.”

Just like this past season with her young basketball team, Brechtl never gave up and eventually found her calling as a coach.

“I couldn’t take doing nothing my senior season, so my varsity coach gave me a chance to coach the junior varsity,” she said. “Once I got hurt, I loved coaching.”

Brechtl’s love for coaching finally paid dividends when she became an assistant coach at Waterford after college. During her six-year run as an assistant, the Wolverines enjoyed plenty of success, including their 2006 state runner-up team.

“I’ll never forget winning sectionals in 2006 against Racine Case,” Brechtl said. “As an athlete in high school in basketball and volleyball, we went to the sectional finals three times, but lost all three, so to finally break through and have that feeling of we’re going to state was unforgettable.”

“We played three games at state, beating Janesville Parker and Marshfield before losing to Ashwaubenon in a very random game.”

 

Motherhood calls

Then in 2010, Brechtl took a year off from coaching to focus on raising her son and newborn twin daughters. Brechtl eventually returned the following year and became the head coach of the program.

Now seven years into her head coaching career, Brechtl has amassed a 93-76 record with one Southern Lakes Conference title, two regional championships, and a sectional final berth in 2015.

“I don’t know if you would find anyone more dedicated to watching film, planning practice, but also being invested in these girls and helping them find success in life,” Waterford assistant basketball coach Adam Bell said. “With the culture she cultivates, you are always disappointed that the season has to end.”

The 2017-2018 season ended with more optimism than disappointment.

“This type of turnaround was different than anything I experienced as a coach,” Brechtl said. “I can remember talking to Rob Domagalski (Union Grove girls basketball coach) after our first regular season loss against his team, and he told me that we are so much better than our record.”

Ironically, Domagalski’s Broncos inadvertently helped the Wolverines start their late-season resurgence.

After Waterford squandered a 12-point lead in the final seven minutes to lose 54-51 at Union Grove late in the regular season, the Wolverines started to figure it out.

“We went to Union Grove and felt like we were the better team,” Brechtl said. “We blew a 12-point lead and asked ourselves why are we doing this to ourselves and realized we have to get better.”

 

An epic conclusion

The Union Grove loss, followed by a 74-49 loss at Milton, marked the beginning of the memorable turnaround.

Waterford won their next five games, including playoff victories against Delavan-Darien, at Burlington, and at Union Grove.

“Basketball is a long season and yet somehow her teams always manage to improve throughout the year,” Waterford assistant coach Liz Radtke said. “This is a testament to not only her, but how hard the girls are willing to work for her and the team.”

Although the Wolverines lost to Jefferson in their next game, Waterford has undoubtedly matured after surviving a rough start to the season. And Brechtl made sure everyone remembers the rewarding journey.

“Before our last game, Dena made cards for each of the girls with the intent to show how that athlete has contributed to the various messages and motivations from the season,” Bell said. “It didn’t stop there as assistant coaches and managers got cards, too. She knows there is more to this than winning.”

With the support of family, coaches, and players, Brechtl has proudly built her program in her own image.

 

Please pick up Thursday’s Burlington Standard Press and Friday’s Waterford Post for the entire 2018 All-Area girls basketball team from Southern Lakes Newspapers, including a feature on the player of the year, Brechtl and the first, second and honorable mention players, who are chosen from our 16-school coverage area.

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