Dec. 6—The Eau Claire North varsity men's basketball team has a lot of new faces this season, one of which is the team's head coach.
Michael Kessler may be in his first season as the head coach of the Huskies, but he is no stranger to basketball in the Big Rivers Conference and the surrounding area.
Prior to taking the job at Eau Claire North, Kessler was the head coach at Elk Mound for the past six seasons. Prior to coaching the Mounders, he was an assistant coach at Eau Claire Memorial for four seasons.
Kessler led Elk Mound to a Dunn-St. Croix Conference championship in the 2016-17 season as well as a runner-up finish in 2020-21.
Kessler said it was a very difficult choice to leave Elk Mound, a school where he loved coaching and had built lots of relationships.
"The opportunity to coach in the Division I level and coach in the Big Rivers (Conference) is not an opportunity that presents itself all too often," Kessler said. "At the end of the day it was an opportunity that I just didn't think I could pass up."
Since he started teaching at Eau Claire North this fall, Kessler has been making an effort to get to know his players personally, not just as basketball players. He said he hosted lots of open gyms this fall so he could spend time with them and not even talk about basketball.
"Trying to get to know them as kids before as basketball players has been a focus of mine," Kessler said.
This group of players are not only getting to know a new head coach and system this season but are mostly getting their first opportunities on a varsity basketball court.
Kessler said they started this season with 11 out of 12 players having barely seen any varsity action before. North's top four scorers from last season all graduated.
"It's one big learning curve for everybody," Kessler said.
Kessler said they are in the process of getting the players acclimated to varsity game environments, which is hard to simulate in practice. They are focusing on seeing improvement every time out on the floor and not getting too discouraged with the results, he said.
The Huskies lost their opening game against Wausau West 58-42 and lost their second game last Friday to Menomonie 62-41.
Kessler said he saw improvements from game one to game two in his team's execution and was happy with their mentality on the court.
"They competed like crazy, and that's going to help us a lot down the road as they get more comfortable with not just the style of play, but also with varsity basketball in the Big Rivers," Kessler said.
He said they are working on "creating advantages" offensively by pushing the pace and stressing lots of movement to create shot opportunities for teammates.
The Huskies will return to their home floor Tuesday night for a matchup against La Crosse Central, a team who's roster is filled with talented athletes, Kessler said. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. at Eau Claire North High School.