By Tom Nader
Publisher and Editor
The Waterloo High School varsity girls basketball program is one of the most storied teams in Portage County history.
For now, though, the program is officially on hold.
Athletic director Mike Devies recently made the difficult decision to suspend the Vikings’ 2023-24 varsity season because of a low number of players.
In fact, Devies admitted that his decision may turn into a two-year break for the program.
The situation will remain in constant evaluation, but Devies’ immediate thought was for the varsity program to return for the 2025-26 season.
What Waterloo will have for the 2023-24 season is a freshman girls basketball team. The plan would then be for a junior varsity team in 2024-25, leading into a return of varsity competition in 2025-26.
This season’s freshman team, which was determined to be unprepared for a varsity schedule, will be coached by Nicole Lewis.
“As someone who has coached forever, there is just no way that I am going to throw five or six freshmen into a varsity schedule and watch them get beat by 40 points every night,” Devies said. “Our league is a pretty good basketball league and that would simply demoralize them and probably lead to even more attrition in our numbers for years to come. My goal is to put a quality freshman team together, let them continue to learn and improve their fundamentals and let them grow together.”
The floor falling out from beneath the Waterloo girls basketball program has multiple layers.
First, the lack of a youth program for multiple years caught up to numbers at the high school. Lewis jumpstarted the youth program once again and the Lil’ Vikings competed in the Springfield Youth Girls Basketball League last year for their first seasons in years.
Secondly, the COVID-interrupted 2020-21 season had an impact on numbers across the region. Not just Waterloo. At Waterloo, however, the program’s numbers were lower to begin with and not immediately able to absorb additional attrition as easily.
Lastly, a torn ACL to Waterloo senior Kaira English this summer, paired with the news that she would not only miss the 2023 fall soccer season, but also the upcoming basketball campaign, had a domino effect on player interest amongst returning upperclassmen.
“We have been going through a huge transition,” Devies said.
Kevin Longanecker, who was in his ninth year with the Vikings last season, resigned at the conclusion of the 2022-23 season and is now an assistant coach at Chippewa.
Waterloo hired Tracy Miller in May. He holds a career record of 308-177, previously coaching at Crestwood, Hoban, Green and Garaway, but he resigned from his position at Waterloo over the summer just a couple of months after being hired.
“We were excited with the hire, but we did not have the turnout at open gyms that we expected and Coach Miller’s fear was that there would be no team this year, so he stepped down,” Devies said. “We are just trying to move forward to build things back up. We have a proud basketball tradition here and it was a very difficult decision to cancel the varsity decision.
“It was not a decision that was taken lightly, I can promise you that,” Devies added. “I think, though, for us to put a quality product back on the court in the future, we had to go this route.”
Devies also believes that Lewis is the perfect person to guide the program through its difficult situation.
“Nicole has taught here for a long time. She is a special teacher and a special person,” Devies said. “She has good discipline, the kids like her, she is very personable and she knows the game of basketball. I am excited for the kids to have her with them.”