Michelle Kincaid, longtime girls basketball coach in Elcho, will lead the boys team in 2020-21.

Building a consistent winner may be the biggest challenge for any high school varsity coach.

In Elcho, the girls basketball program has been lucky to have Michelle Kincaid at its helm for the past 21 seasons. Now as a 2020-21 winter sports season that will look a bit different, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, is set to begin, the biggest difference in Elcho may be the bench Kincaid will call home.

During the offseason, Kincaid stepped down from her role as the girls coach, taking on a new direction in her coaching career as she takes charge of the boys program.

It will be a strange sight at first, but one that Hornets fans hope will turn the boys team into a perennial contender in the Northern Lakes Conference.

“It was a bittersweet decision to make the change, because I loved building the Lady Hornets program and coaching the ladies for the past 21 years,” Kincaid said. “Every year was a new challenge, and I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to coach so many wonderful young ladies over the years.”

Kincaid departs the girls program with a career record of 222-239, including two Northern Lakes Conference Coach of the Year honors, coming in 2012 and 2017. She also served as the coach for the Division Five Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) All-Star team in 2005 and was an assistant coach for the game ins 2009 and 2014.

Her Elcho teams claimed back-to-back Northern Lakes Conference titles in the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons and a regional championship in 2017. The Lady Hornets also reached the regional final in 2006.

In addition, Kincaid was instrumental in building the Elcho program from the ground up, serving as an elementary and middle school coach, while also spending 21 years facilitating the K-8th grade Junior Hornets program.

Her efforts did not go unnoticed by her peers, as she earned the WBCA’s Hall of Fame Achievement Award in 2017.

“The memories of the struggles, victories, championships and fans will always hold a special place in my heart,” she said. “I wasn’t thinking of changing coaching careers, but when the opportunity arose, I felt this may be a chance to help all of Elcho basketball. I am excited to work with the boys program and bring many of the same expectations I have implemented over the years here at Elcho. I believe this new challenge will be positive for everyone.”

As far as the girls program, Kincaid is confident she is leaving it in good hands.

“I feel the transition to coaches Joerns and Pence will continue as a competitive and respected program,” she said. “Both coaches are well qualified, and I feel confident that the ladies are in great coaching hands under their leadership.”

Now Kincaid’s focus turns to the boys team, coming off a 6-17 season but featuring a promising roster of returning players.

Leading those returnees is junior center Chase Novak, who earned second team all-Northern Lakes Conference honors as a sophomore.

The 6-foot-4 Novak averaged a double-double, leading the Hornets in both scoring at 14.6 points per game, and in rebounding at 11.6 per contest. The rebounding numbers led the Northern Lakes, while Novak was fifth overall in scoring.

A sophomore to junior year jump could put Novak in position to contend for the conference’s Offensive or Defensive Player of the Year award, or perhaps, even both.

As a team, the Hornets, which lost just two seniors, bring back seven of their top eight performers in the scoring category, in Novak, senior Bruce Rea, sophomore John Slowik, senior Kolton Schmidt, senior Cole Kupfer, junior Seth Schuett and 6-foot-6 junior Wyatt Wagner.

Rea was second on the team in scoring at 6.6 points per game, while Slowik averaged 5.2 as a freshman, but led in the team with 21 three-pointers made. His outside shooting could be even more of a factor for Elcho in 2020-21.

Senior Kristian Klingler along with underclassmen Keegan Klingler and Logan Raith all saw varsity playing time a year ago as well.

All-in-all, it’s a promising group for Kincaid’s first year at the helm and with incoming numbers, likely enough to have a junior varsity team this year as well, an asset to any program.

“I certainly hope to turn this program into a perennial contender,” she said. “That was always an important goal with the Lady Hornets. I certainly feel it is reachable at the conference level. Factors include coaching longevity, commitment to hard work, an interest in the program to increase numbers will be crucial. Declining numbers is unfortunately a challenge for many small school programs.”

Kincaid will also be one of the few female faces around the state on a boys basketball bench, but she doesn’t see that as any kind of an obstacle.

“There are not many female coaches in boys basketball,” Kincaid said. “However, in my career with the girls, there were many years I was the sole female coach in the Northern Lakes Conference. I view coaches as coaches and basketball players as basketball players. I am sure there will be challenges along the way, but I don’t anticipate any challenges I haven’t encountered already.”

Elcho opens its season by jumping right into Northern Lakes Conference play on Tuesday, when it hosts Florence.

Laona-Wabeno is the defending Northern Lakes boys champ and returns a trio of all-conference performers, including unanimous first team selection Connor Taylor.

Elcho will see Laona-Wabeno twice, including the first matchup on Dec. 10 in Elcho.

“Goals this season will be to improve every game,” Kincaid added. “All aspects of the game need to be practiced with diligence and the implementation of that work in games will be reflected in how well we meet those goals.”

And on the challenges of attempting to play a full schedule within a pandemic?

“I am staying optimistic that we will be able to have a normal schedule,” she said. “As a teacher, parent and coach, it is difficult to see the students and athletes work so hard and have their schedules change so fast because of quarantine recommendations. Staying positive and safe through the struggles we will face and understanding that some things are beyond our control, will get us all through this together.”