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Coach's abrupt resignation sends Z-M basketball program reeling

By Pat Ruff

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

The Zumbrota-Mazeppa girls basketball team appears to have set a record for number of head coaches in a seven-day period.

The Cougars trotted out four different ones in that span, all in the wake of the original head coach, Angela Heitmann, resigning for personal reasons one week into the season.

Heitmann’s stepping down was followed by Z-M athletic director and dean of students Tim McAthie taking over for a day, then Z-M B squad coach Brad Smith assuming control for four days, before former Z-M eighth-grade coach Jared Andring settled in as the Cougars’ new and permanent coach on Nov. 26.

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At least permanent for this season. There have been no commitments made yet for 2008-09.

It’s made for an emotional and difficult start for the Cougars, who are 0-4 entering Friday’s game with Stewartville. Heitmann’s abrupt resignation was a jolt to everyone, not least the Z-M players. She’d been the Cougars coach the last six years.

"It was shocking to us that she was going to be gone," said Z-M senior guard Holly Hinsch, who had played under Heitmann the last two seasons. "We went from shocked, to being kind of emotional, to not wanting (the Z-M administration) to rush into picking a new coach. We were kind of protective of our program, wanting them to look out for us and make a hire that was to our benefit.

"Us seniors, we looked at this as our year. We wanted to do something with it."

Now, lugging around an 0-4 record and adapting to a fourth head coach in less than a month, Hinsch still believes that Z-M can make something of the season.

"It’s gotten better," Hinsch said. "As we’ve gotten used to Mr. Andring, things are moving along. I think by Christmas we’re going to be doing pretty well."

There’s certainly been plenty of change to absorb, especially on such late notice. As tough a spot as that’s put the Z-M players in, Andring is in an even more daunting position.

The 26-year-old graduate of Dover-Eyota High School and the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse hesitated about accepting the offer to become head coach. Part of it was family reasons — he and his wife are expecting their first child in May.

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As much as it had been in his plans to eventually become a head varsity coach, the timing here was tough. Not only did Andring need to get the OK from his wife before assuming the position, but he had to decide whether he really wanted it. Jumping into your first varsity basketball coaching job, with no preparation time, is far from ideal.

Still, he weighed it all, and said yes. So far, he’s glad he did.

"Part of the reason I took the job is because I’ve known a lot of the kids on the team for a long time," said Andring, a Z-M math teacher. "I’d either had them in class or coached them when they were younger. I thought that if I didn’t say yes to this coaching position, I didn’t know who would."

So, Andring took it for the team, literally. He admits it’s not been easy. Coaching at the eighth-grade level is worlds apart from being a varsity coach. Andring notes that you’re teaching the basics in eighth grade, versus needing to be versed in basketball’s strategic complexities as a varsity coach.

Andring admits that he’s a work in progress, just like his team.

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