Brian Dunker is about to begin his first year as a head basketball coach, but he’ll be doing so in a familiar setting.
Dunker is the new girls basketball coach at his alma mater: Cedar Bluffs High School.
Dunker, a 2010 graduate of CBHS, earned his business education degree from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. He taught for four years at Raymond Central High School where he also was the head boys assistant basketball coach.
“The job at Cedar Bluffs opened up so I took a shot at applying and was able and fortunate enough to get the job,” Dunker said. “It’s been a lot of fun to be back.”
Since getting hired in the spring at Cedar Bluffs, Dunker has enjoyed getting acquainted with his new team.
“We went to some team camps which allowed the girls to get used to me as a coach and allowed us to get to know each other,” Dunker said. “I think that’s just essential to the success of a program. “Can your players trust the coach and can they relate to the coach? I really tried to hit home that I’m one of them. I graduated (from Cedar Bluffs), I know how it goes.”
That transition period has carried over into preseason practices.
“It’s a little bit of a learning process because it’s my first year here at Cedar Bluffs,” Dunker said. “I worked with them over the summer with different camps and things, but it’s been a little bit of a learning process now getting into practices, but they’ve been working hard and they’ve been learning and they’ve been growing.”
Dunker will have a veteran roster to work with for his first season with the Wildcats. Seven letterwinners return from last season, including four seniors.
“(The seniors) have been very welcoming of me which I know sometimes it’s hard when you’re a senior (and you get a new coach),” Dunker said. “I’m just trying to establish with them that I’m not here to ruffle any feathers. I’m here to make them as good as they can possibly be.
“I think they’ve latched on and I think that they’ve become really good leaders for us. Those four have been really good practice leaders for us so far, helping some of the younger girls and are either new to the program or are still learning.”
One of those four seniors – Alyssa Classen – is the team’s leading returning scorer.
Classen, a 5-foot-11 forward, averaged 9.8 points a game last season to go along with 8.2 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 1.3 assists.
As the tallest player on Cedar Bluffs’ roster, Classen will help solidify the post. But she also is one of the Wildcats’ best threats from 3-point range.
“If we need a 3, she’s somebody we’re going to look to,” Dunker said of Classen. “She’s a solid player. She doesn’t get too emotional. She does her job. She’s a good shooter and a good rebounder. She can defend a little bit which is nice when you have a bigger kid who can defend on the perimeter and in the post.”
Skylar Shanahan, a 5-9 junior, led the Wildcats in rebounding last season, grabbing an average of 11.0 boards a contest. She also averaged 8.1 points, 1.7 assists and 1.7 steals.
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“She’s a really great athlete. She jumps incredibly well. She gets off the floor quickly,” Dunker said. “Her intensity is probably one of the highest on the team. … She’s overall a great kid and a great role model even for the older girls. She’s always listening. She’s kind of a coach’s dream when it comes to that kind of stuff.”
Dunker said having two versatile athletes in Classen and Shanahan on the floor together will be very beneficial for the Wildcats.
“Skylar’s relatively comfortable on the perimeter and Alyssa’s really comfortable on the perimeter, but they’re also players who can go in and mix it up and get rebounds, block shots and play good defense, and all of the other little things that don’t show up in the stats,” he said.
In addition to Classen, Emmy Brown, Faith Hansen and Nevaeh Patyk are the senior leaders for Cedar Bluffs.
Brown, a 5-9 forward, averaged 3 points and 3.6 rebounds last season. As a 5-4 guard, Hansen put in 2.2 points and grabbed 1.8 rebounds. Patyk (5-2) averaged 6.5 points, 2 rebounds, 2 steals and 1.6 assists from her guard position.
“These older players have really helped me out in terms of listening and being willing to listen,” Dunker said. “I don’t know what’s happened in the past and I don’t care about what’s happened in the past, but I know when you have coaching transitions this late in your career, sometimes you’re just like it’s only two more years or it’s only one more year. They really are fantastic girls.”
Sophomore Grace Williams (5-7 guard) and junior Audrey Hudson (5-5 forward) also return as letterwinners on the Wildcats’ 12-player roster.
While the small number of players on the roster makes depth a bit of a concern, Dunker said it also means everyone has a chance to be involved.
“Everyone’s going to factor in what we do and how far we go,” he said. “That’s what exciting about it. You can’t have a day off. We need your best at all times. Whether it’s an injury that comes up during the year or foul trouble or whatever it is, you’ve got to be ready to go and you’re reps have got to be good.”
The first-year coach believes rebounding will be a strength of this year’s team. Offensively, the Wildcats need to continue to take steps forward, Dunker said.
“I’d like to see some transition offense,” he said. “Basketball is a more exciting game when it’s played a little bit more with a pace. I think it doesn’t make it as boring for the kids. Defensively, you’ve just got to be tough. It’s a skill defensively to be tough.”
Cedar Bluffs posted an 11-13 record last season. The Wildcats lost four-year starter Jadyn Vacha to graduation. She averaged 11 points and 9.4 rebounds a game during her senior season.
“I think you can disperse what was lost and still get the same production, but it’s going to take some work,” Dunker said.
The Wildcats open the season Thursday at home against East Butler.
“I think we’re going to be competitive,” Dunker said. “That’s my expectation and I think the girls know that. And the girls want to be good. Hopefully that all makes the perfect storm and we’re pretty good.”