During her outstanding athletic career at both Burlington Central and then Wisconsin-Whitewater, Cindy Hilbrich was never one to shy away from a challenge.
When you played against Hilbrich, regardless of the sport, you knew you were going against one of the toughest competitors the Fox Valley has ever seen.
Hilbrich's's latest challenge is one she's embracing with all the zeal and competitiveness she became known for during her playing career.
Hilbrich, who graduated from Central in 1998, earned her degree in human resource management from Whitewater in 2002 and then her Masters in curriculum and instruction from UWW in 2006, is now the head women's basketball coach at NCAA Division II Montevallo University in Alabama. She took over the program after spending four years as an assistant at South Carolina-Aiken, which like Montevallo is in the Peach Belt Conference.
"I'm enjoying it," Hilbrich said Saturday after her Falcons won their second game of the week to stay alive in the hunt for a conference tournament bid. "I love coaching. It's kind of funny because coach (Wade) Maisto (at Burlington Central) always used to tell me I'd end up being a coach and I always told him no way. I guess he saw something in me because he was right."
Hilbrich, who scored over 1,000 points in her high school basketball career and is an inductee to the Central Athletic Hall of Fame, admits being a head coach has its challenges far and above those of being an assistant.
"There's so many non-coaching things you have to do," said Hilbrich, whose program ran a Kay Yow Cancer Fund event at its game on Saturday. "I loved being an assistant and watching tape and going to practice and doing things to make our players better. Now there's a million more things to do but I love being in charge."
Hilbrich's time management has had to change along with her role, but that's never been a concern for her. Remember, she was a 3-sport athlete in high school and a 2-sport athlete in college. She worked different jobs while volunteering for one year at a Wisconsin high school and one year at UW-Parkside before heading south to her first full-time gig at Mount Olive College in North Carolina. She was there one year and then moved on to USC-Aiken.
"I've never had a problem with time management," she said. "I'm a workaholic. I've taken one day off since Dec. 27 and that's when my parents were here. My AD always jokes with me that I need to find a hobby. I told him when the season's over I'll take two weeks off, but I'll still have my laptop with me and I'll be recruiting."
Hilbrich actually applied for the Montevallo job a year prior to getting it. The school chose another candidate who was fired 4 months into the job. Hilbrich's assistant, Brittany Godsey, finished up last season as interim coach.
"Brittany's done a great job," said Hilbrich, a far west Elgin native. "It was a tough adjustment but it's all fine now."
Hilbrich also admits there's new challenges when it comes to game coaching. Her team has gone through injuries and other player-related situations that have the current active roster at just seven players. Still, the Falcons are 10-14 overall and could be playing postseason basketball with a win in one of their two games this coming week.
"Calling plays has been tough," Hilbrich said. "We had a lot of close games early and I found out I wasn't very good at making quick decisions. Part of that was learning my team. It's my first year and it's a big steppingstone. It's been a stressful year but for us to be competitive and to have scratched out a couple wins this week has been great."
Keep an eye on that name Montevallo. Something tells me with Hilbrich in charge the Division II women's basketball world may be hearing more of the Falcons soon.
Postseason musings: For just the second time -- 2004 being the other with Larkin and Bartlett -- two School District U-46 girls basketball teams have won regional titles in the same season. Bartlett and South Elgin carry the U-46 flag into sectional play this week and if the Hawks and Storm can scratch out two more wins each, Chesbrough Field House at Elgin High could be rockin' come a week from Monday night with a South Elgin vs. Bartlett Class 4A supersectional game. How neat would that be? And how about if Hampshire can turn it on at the Class 3A Sycamore sectional this week and advance to the first super that night at Elgin?
We can wish, right?