Troy Ersland watches the action from the sidelines during Clinton's 67-59 overtime win over Burlington Dec. 18 at Yourd Gymnasium. Ersland is in his first season as the River Kings' head coach.

CLINTON – Troy Ersland pled for patience as his team gathered during a late timeout Tuesday night.

After all, the River Kings' first-year coach has been practicing the virtue since taking the job in the summer.

While Clinton has tumbled to 2-7 this season, Ersland is far from discouraged. His positivity exudes on social media, where he seems to always find a positive sentiment under any circumstance. For example, Ersland tweeted that he was "very proud" of the team's improvement following a 27-point drubbing to Bettendorf on Dec. 4.

Ersland is embracing the challenge of a program rebuild, as the River Kings are not yet ready to compete with Mississippi Athletic Conference elites North Scott, Davenport Central and Bettendorf.

"We have had our challenges but I knew that coming in," Ersland said. "We are trying to build this program back up and get new things going and it is happening slowly, but I have had a lot of really good support from the community, my peers and the administration."

When Ersland accepted the position in May, he wasted little time organizing countless open gym sessions. The informal practices helped improve players' skills while also creating a two-way relationship with a group of fresh faces. The team even held a competitive video game tournament for a fundraiser.

"We did a lot more this summer than they had in the past for whatever reason," Ersland said. "That is when you get better individually… that is when all the skill development happens and I had to get to know them and they had to get to know me."

Clinton guard LJ Henderson, who leads the team with 11.9 points a game this season, said he appreciated the strides made while school was out of session.

"Transferring coaches is never easy but he got ahold of us early in the summer and had us in open gyms to help make the transition easier," Henderson said. "Coming in, he sounded like he knew what he was talking about and what he is doing."

Ersland grew up in Waterloo and has held a wealth of coaching positions throughout his career. Most recently, he led Janesville (1A) to a 29-15 recording during a two-year stint. He also picked up coaching credentials at Waterloo Columbus Catholic and Dakota State University.

A desire to return to the teaching profession sparked Ersland's move to Clinton – and he wanted to coach where he taught. He currently serves as an At-Risk teacher at CHS, where he says the shift has been seamless.

"I like Clinton, it reminds me of a smaller Waterloo," Ersland said. "The people have been awesome here. I have enjoyed everything from the administration to the teachers I have met when I interviewed. I got lucky enough they offered me the job so I took it."

While Ersland has been uplifting during the team's shortcomings this season, he isn't afraid to show teeth and apply pressure when necessary.

After noticing an effort shortage in back-to-back losses to Davenport Assumption and Pleasant Valley, Ersland allowed Monday's practice session to dictate playing time for Tuesday night's contest. As a result, Carter Horan earned his first start of the season and sophomore Taylon Hayes played extended minutes after appearing in the junior varsity game an hour before.

Clinton plunges into a pressing schedule to close out the week. The River Kings will host a pair of undefeated teams in North Scott Thursday and Maquoketa (Class 3A) Saturday afternoon.

The message in Wednesday's practice?

"We have nothing to lose... let's leave it all out there," Ersland said.