HAMMOND | In his sixth season at Purdue Calumet, women's basketball coach Tom Megyesi has led teams that have broken school records and reached firsts in program history.
The Peregrines finished the 2011-12 season with a 23-10 mark and an appearance in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference Division II Championship game. The team earned votes in the national NAIA Division II poll and just missed an at-large bid into the tournament.
As his teams have set school scoring records, he sets his own schedule, making sure to play nonconference games against the likes of Division I Valparaiso to prepare for conference powers like Cardinal Stritch.
That's what he's done.
Here's what he's proud of: his players have stayed at Purdue Cal through graduation, he's created first-team all-academic players and his squad was named an NAIA Scholar Team after the spring semester, amassing a 3.4 cumulative GPA.
"I wanted my recruits to realize not only were they going to play basketball, they were going to get a Purdue degree," Megyesi said. "Once I got that message across, I was able to get high-quality students and athletes to come here and play. We've taken a lot of pride in everything we've done and we've been very fortunate to win more games every year than we had the previous year."
After 11 sectional titles and two appearances in the state championship game (including the 1994 title) in 24 seasons as the girls basketball coach at Lake Central, these were supposed to be Megyesi's retirement years.
This is the time to buy a boat, travel the world, spend basketball seasons watching his alma mater Michigan State.
Instead, he's back on the sidelines doing what he does best: win. The Peregrines are on a five-game winning streak, with all of those victories in double digits.
He brought with him former L.C. girls basketball assistant Keith Hauber, who also won two state titles as the Indians softball coach.
Their policy on practice rivals what most players see in high school. There's no benching if a player is late or misses because of a tutoring session, or class, or a meeting with a lab partner. When academics is No. 1, basketball doesn't necessarily take a back seat.
"Our core players put in that extra time that helps," senior Alex Starr said. "Even when we're not there, we're still able to get everything done. We've had to put in a lot of hours outside of the gym to make sure we're still up to par."
He's picked up local talent like Lindsay Whitcomb from Washignton Township, Tierra Turner from Merrillville and Stephanie Balon of South Central. He's also attracted players like Starr, who won a state championship with Plymouth, and Ellie Rawski, who went to L'Anse Creuse High School in Michigan and was named her school's Wendy's High School Heisman winner.
"With Coach bringing in good students and good caliber athletes, we want to stay all four years," Starr said. "It's not like some programs that are just looking for athletes, and then they don't mesh well together, and they're not good students and they leave after two years. Coach is getting players that want to (earn a) Purdue degree, want to stay here and basketball comes second. I think that's why we've been so successful and why he's created this legacy."
This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.