MAYER – It was simply the right timing for Keith Traska. A longtime basketball coach across the border in Wisconsin, Traska will be changing sides as he was named the new basketball coach at Mayer Lutheran earlier this month. Traska, who was hired as a teacher at Mayer Lutheran, heard about the opening of the boys’ basketball coaching job and decided to take a shot.
“We moved here at the very end of May,” Traska said. “I got an email from Kris Gustin about five days after we moved that said there was an opening for a boys basketball coach if any staff members were interested. I’ve been coaching basketball and soccer for close to the last 20 years, so for me, it was like let’s throw my hat in the ring and see what happens.”
Traska will take over the program after former coach Pat Buchannan stepped down in late June. Buchannan led the Crusaders to the state tournament in his first year in the 2017-2018 season and is now the head coach at Apple Valley High School.
Mayer Lutheran boys basketball has been a top program in Class A over the past few seasons. While Traska was excited to get the job, he wasn’t aware of the situation he would be coming into.
“At the time I got the email, I didn’t know anything about the program,” Traska said. “I was not aware of what level or anything that was at. After applying, I started to hear more about the certain talent level that we have.”
Traska will be walking into an ideal situation as the Crusaders bring back experience and talent from last season. What makes things even sweeter for the new head coach is that there won’t be a single senior on the roster, giving him extra time to develop relationships with his players. He’s already had three open gyms with his guys this summer which is the beginning of the chance to get closer to his new players.
“That’s an important aspect of it,” Traska said. “It’s more about developing those relationships and letting players see that. They need to know they can trust that you’re going to lead them on something that they’re going to be able to do. You’re going to give them the tools to be successful and that’s really been my goal through the three open gyms we’ve had.”
Traska will bring a new style to the program for Mayer Lutheran this year. After seeing what he has to work with at open gyms this summer, he’s excited about the idea of playing an up-tempo style on both ends of the floor.
“I’m a fan of a very up-tempo offense and defense,” Traska said. “I love to press, trap, and run. We turn up the pace as much as we can. Given that we’ve got 10-12 varsity boys who can do that, you can bet that we’re going to run and use our bench. It’s not going to be just grinding it out with six or seven players and hope for a game in the forties. We’re going to make sure we play hard-nosed defense all game long, but we want to score, too.”
As Traska looks to take over the program, he does so with a simple message for his players.
“I’ve been coaching long enough that I’m not looking to make my mark,” Traska said. “That’s one of the things I preach with coaching. It’s not my team. It’s not your team. It’s His team, and His with a Capital H. I like to reinforce those things the first couple of weeks that we’re using our talents and gifts that God has given us to His glory.”
While expectations might be high for the Crusaders coming into the 2020-2021 season, Traska finds himself in a unique spot. Being from out of state, he doesn’t know much about the competition the Crusaders will face, but that doesn’t mean he won’t give some goals for his players to aim for from the start.
“For me personally, I don’t know the competition,” Traska said. “I certainly would not want to speak out of turn about goals or expectations for us. I do expect the team to give 100 percent every single practice and in everything we do. We’ve got a lot of goals. We want to win the conference. We want to not just go to state, we want to win state. I mean that should be everyone’s goal every year. In reality, only one team gets to win state. So, if we’re good enough to do that and we train hard enough to do that, that’s great. If that’s us, we’ll be very blessed.”
As Traska prepares to take over the program, the biggest thing he will try and install in his players is getting them to come together as a team both on the court and off the court.
“My focus is going to be getting these boys to really come together and to gel together,” Traska said. “I’m constantly preaching that there’s no spot on a resumé for how far your basketball team went. What you have on a resumé is references and skills you’ve learned. Being an educator, that’s my biggest focus when coaching. How did you learn to work with other people? Did you learn to improve your own weaknesses and use your strengths to help someone else? Those are the aspects that I’ll really hopefully bring to this program. This is why I’m here. This what we’re going after.”