It’s not always easy to take over a program.
There’s foundations built in, previous years’ expectations to overcome, and new philosophies to put into place.
Although the record for the Northeast girls basketball team was just .500, that was enough. Head coach Johnny Driscoll earned a spot as a coach of the year finalist for a program turnaround that impressed the area.
Driscoll inherited a roster filled to the brim with multisport athletes, but one that never quite clicked on the basketball court.
From the very first scrimmage against Clinton High School, the difference in the Rebels was palpable.
“The energy that the coaches bring into the game is a game changer,” junior Alexis Ehlers said in an interview earlier this year. “It boosts our energy when we walk through the doors.”
They jumped out to one of their best starts in the last decade, beating Class 4A Clinton in a preseason scrimmage and downing local foe Camanche for the first time since Dec. 15, 2016.
The energy coming from every player sparked the Rebel fans, cheers from the bench and an exciting brand of basketball on the floor in Goose Lake.
Driscoll, a Preston dweller, took over the program this year.
“[My goal] was for the girls to have fun,” Driscoll said early this season. “And winning in fun.”
That led them from the bottom of the River Valley Conference to the middle of the pack, and an 11-11 season for the first double-digit win campaign since 2016.
His young athletes also leave plenty to be excited for in the future.
As far as Driscoll goes, he’s an interesting presence on the floor and one that the Northeast athletes respect.
He often can be seen standing silently on the sidelines, arms crossed and watching intently.
But don’t get it wrong. He can explode with noise and energy at any given time according to calls or plays. He’ll be the first to defend his players on the floor and isn’t scared to let his thoughts known during timeouts.
“He doesn’t just chatter at us throughout the game,” Neveah Hildebrandt said earlier this season. “He says the right thing at the right time, and we know to listen because it’s important.”
There seems to be a new energy buzzing around the Rebel ladies. After a successful softball and track seasons last year, basketball seems to be following the same path. Driscoll has helped set them up for more to come.