Joe VandenBerg has been ready for this moment.
The moment also seems ready for VandenBerg.
VandenBerg was approved as the next Ottumwa High School girls basketball coach Monday after spending four years coaching in the school district at various levels. The 2007 Albia graduate has worked his way up the ladder, reaching the varsity bench last season with former coach Kevin Patterson.
The time feels right.
“I’m real excited about the opportunity and what we can accomplish,” VandenBerg said. “Kevin did a lot for these kids and he really laid the foundation, and now you’re starting to see the success. I’m excited to build on that.”
Patterson, who left for Waukee to take a teaching job after eight years at Ottumwa’s head coach, turned to VandenBerg last season because he wanted input on how to get the Bulldogs to run the floor on offense. For years, Ottumwa’s calling card has been lockdown defense, but VandenBerg brought a new and refreshing attacking philosophy from an X’s and O’s standpoint.
“I’ve always been drawn to the offense side of the game,” he said. “That was something we took a lot of pride in last year, and I just looked the numbers from the previous year, and knew we could have success if we got the buy-in. We had success early and often, and once they kind of saw that, it made a difference.”
Now, it’ll be VandenBerg’s job to meld the offense and defense. He’ll return five players who started a year ago, but will lose starting post players Morgan Greiner and Lily Anderson, who was an all-state player, as well as shooting guard Helen Altfillisch.
VandenBerg saw the fruit of the offense early with a 75-point outburst against a strong Knoxville team in the Iowa Hall of Pride scrimmage. By the end of the season, Ottumwa averaged 54 points per game, the most in the Patterson era and the most in at least a dozen years. The offensive improvement was one of the reasons behind Ottumwa’s best winning percentage (.700) in 16 years.
With players familiar with his offensive style, VandenBerg said that will allow him to focus more on the defensive side. He doesn’t anticipate many changes, but offensively, there may be a faster pace with more perimeter shooting to offset the loss of both post players.
“We have a nice core returning,” he said. “Kevin showed me how to really manage the game, and the stuff that goes on off the court. I learned a lot of defensive principles from him. He took my offense and taught me a lot about defense. He was one of the best defensive coaches I’ve seen.
“But we’re not just going to starting giving up 90 points per game,” he said. “We’re still going to take pride in our defense.”
VandenBerg still must round out his staff, but is waiting for board approval on two of his potential assistant coaches, both former William Penn players. VandenBerg, who coached at the junior high level for two years and also served as an assistant one year at the high school level before joining Patterson, will have say in shaping the program from the ground up.
“(Activities director) Scott (Maas) has kind of let me take the reins,” he said. “I really want us to get the gym at all levels, to make sure we’re getting numbers in the gym. The foundation is here and already in place. Kevin and I already knew what we were going to do in the summer with team camps, so that’s not going to change.
“We just need to get as many shots up as we can,” he said. “Otherwise, nothing is really changing for me. This is a good transition.”
Chad Drury can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and on Twitter @ChadDrury