CALUMET CITY | T.F. North girls basketball coach Tim Zasada and his staff couldn't put the finger on what was wrong in the early going with his team.
Zasada's team are known for never giving up and leaving it all on the floor. This year's team started out a little different.
The Meteors were struggling after dropping four of their first five games. Though Zasada knew he had an untested team except for Division I recruits Schenia Battle (Alabama-Birmingham) and Sabrina Montgomery (Morgan State), he sensed it was more than talent-related.
Finally, Zasada put his finger on it: His team was too easily taking getting a finger put in its face.
"The typical T.F. North team didn't get pushed around, but we were being bullied and taking it," Zasada said. "In the past, we've had girls who were nice girls off the court, but had that mean streak in them on the court. This team was nice on the court."
So Zasada toughened up his team. Senior Sharee Greenlee said he laid it on the line at a practice.
"He told us we were here to work or we could go home, it was our choice," Greenlee said. "We decided to stay and work, and he just pushed us and told us not to back down."
The Meteors got things going and and upset then Class 3A No. 1 Hillcrest and went 13-0 to win the South Suburban Blue title. Hillcrest went on to finish third in Class 3A. North made to the Class 4A Marist Regional final, where it lost to the hosts.
For guiding his team to a 20-win season, Zasada is The Times Coach of the Year for the second straight year and third overall. He will be leaving North after this season to become a head football coach at Reavis.
Hillcrest coach John Maniatis said even when Zasada's team started slow, he had no doubt they would be back.
"He did a tremendous coaching job again," Maniatis said. "Even when they were 1-and-4, I thought he squeezed as much energy and effort he could from them. He refused to lose."
Zasadas said his team had to get tougher and that meant tougher practices.
"We did tell the girls they had to get more physical and aggressive," Zasada said. "We watched films and pointed out, 'Why is their girl getting a loose ball and we are not? Because we aren't going after it!' As a staff, we all worked harder and a credit to the kids is they did to. They wanted to win."
The 20 wins included two forfeits against Rich Central, but two wins are something Zasada would have taken at the beginning of the year. The season was supposed to be a down year, but things did look bleak at the beginning of the season.
"We heard the talk that this would be the year to get us," Zasada said. "We heard talk in the district (215) that (T.F.) South would get us this year, but we just worried about getting our stuff together."
Greenlee said Zasada's dedication to them and the game rubbed off on them.
"He never gave up on us," Greenlee said. "He told us we were good and we could be better. Then he made us work at practice to get better. He made us get tougher and be more aggressive and it worked."
A tough early schedule didn't help, but Zasada said what didn't kill his team helped them.
"We knew if we could survive that, we had a chance at conference," Zasada said. "If we could get to the Hillcrest game undefeated in conference, we would be playing for first place.
"The girls never backed down."
The Meteors were down 16 against Hillcrest, but came back for a 68-62 win.
"We are worthy adversaries and I love coaching against Tim because his teams play so hard," Maniatis said. "As much of a competitor he is, Tim is a class guy and always shows gratitude.
"He brought pride to that program and Calumet City."