Brandon Kreczmer never had a lot of experience with high school girls – even while he was in high school himself.
A native of Chicago, Kreczmer grew up on the northwest side of town and attend St. Patrick, the oldest all-boys school in Chicago.
But in a funny twist, girls athletics is now at the forefront of Kreczmer's mind.
The former Western Illinois University linebacker is now coaching a pair of girls teams at Newman. He followed up his inaugural track season this spring by accepting the girls basketball coaching job last month, taking over for Jay Howell, who resigned.
Kreczmer was an assistant to Howell last season. Howell, who coaches volleyball at Sauk Valley Community College, approached athletic director Mike Papoccia about stepping aside and leaving the program in Kreczmer's capable hands.
"It is funny how it worked out," Kreczmer said, "but I'm excited for the opportunity, and it means a lot to me that I've been welcomed into the Newman family with open arms."
Kreczmer didn't play basketball in high school. The son of an ardent basketball fan, he played through eighth grade, but was injured before the season his freshman year at St. Patrick. He spent that season as a sort of team manager, but opted to focus on football after that.
"That paid off, with me playing at Western," Kreczmer said, "but I do regret not playing basketball in high school. I love the game, I grew up with my dad as a big basketball fan, and I love studying and analyzing and breaking down film. I'm a student of every sport, and I love seeing kids grow and get better and reach their goals, so I'll do everything I can to help these girls do that."
Kreczmer does have ties to Newman, in the form of fiancée Michele Salvatori, SVM's girls basketball player of the year and female athlete of the year in 2009. Salvatori's father, Joe, is a longtime assistant for the Comets, and contacted principal Andy Edmondson about any job openings as his daughter and Kreczmer got done with school at WIU.
Both were exercise science majors, but Kreczmer, who earned his master's degree in the field in 2012, is working toward a teaching degree as well. He was hired as a part-time social sciences teacher, and the coaching gigs were an added bonus.
"I went into exercise science because I wanted to be around sports, and I knew I wouldn't always be able to play them myself," Kreczmer said. "Coaching is another great way to do that, and I've been blessed with this chance."
After watching Michele play for the Leathernecks, and often annoying her by repeatedly pausing games while the two watch them on TV, Kreczmer is embracing his role as student of the game. While he's getting his bearings, he's relying heavily on his future father-in-law, as well as boys coach Ray Sharp and Mike Papoccia, who coached girls basketball for a few years himself in addition to his 34 years on the football sideline.
"I've picked their brains a lot, just relying on their experience," said Kreczmer, who also serves as Papoccia's linebackers coach. "I'm going to take advantage of any opportunity I have to learn from those guys."
He's also learning as much from his players as they are from him. The lessons he's taking from his veteran colleagues are being directly relayed to the Comets.
"I can just feed the things I'm learning right off to them, and we're going through the learning process together," Kreczmer said. "They're very intelligent kids, and I'm not afraid to pick their brains, too; I'll ask them what they liked in the past, what's worked well for them in the past as players and as a unit, and that helps build trust between us."
As a former hard-nosed linebacker, Kreczmer hopes to instill some of that fight and intensity into the Comets. With a lack of height, he's focused on an up-tempo style of play, and he's already working with his players on conditioning and lifting weights to build strength and endurance.
"We're going to have to run and gun, really beat teams up and down the court," Kreczmer said, "but it's a style the girls like and a system they're already buying into."
The goal is to bring the Comets back to the glory days when his fiancee and her teammates were taking Newman to the supersectionals on an annual basis. Kreczmer believes with the knowledgeable and athletic core of players he has, the sky's the limit for the program.
"We want to build a strong foundation that will last for a long time," he said, "and this group of girls is really excited to be part of those first building blocks."
Born: June 25, 1988
High school: St. Patrick, class of 2006; played football and ran track
College: Western Illinois, class of 2010; played linebacker for Leathernecks; earned master's degree in exercise science in 2012
Occupation: Social sciences teacher at Newman; head girls basketball & girls track coach, assistant football coach
FYI: Fiancée is former Comet standout Michele Salvatori. … Currently working toward teaching degree. … Attended oldest all-boys high school in Chicago. … Was honorable mention All-Missouri Valley Conference linebacker as a fifth-year senior at WIU in 2010.