In 1981, Sal Konkle was a standout senior at Marshall High School for the women’s basketball team. She led her team to the MHSAA state championship game against Okemos High School, but the Redhawks were on the losing end of a 64-52 final score.
Fast forward to 2015-16, in her 16th season as head coach, Konkle and the Redhawks defeated Grand Rapids South Christian High School, 51-42, to win the Class B state championship. After the season, Konkle was voted as the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan Girls’ 2016 Coach of the Year.
For many high school athletes, the opportunity to play for a state championship only comes once-in-a-lifetime. But when Konkle was hired as the coach of the Redhawks in 1999, she had another chance. In her first 15 seasons, the team won 11 district championships, but they were never able to take home a state championship trophy. That is, until her 16th season.
“I was a senior in 1981, so winning this past season was extra special for me in two ways,” said Konkle. “I was able to finally win a state championship, and I got to do it with my daughter, who was a junior on the team last season.”
The 2016-17 season will be Konkle’s 17th as the varsity head coach, and she attributes the long-standing success of the program to the support from the community and school system. She wants her players to be well-rounded athletes who continue to get better everyday.
“I stress that ‘It’s all about getting better,’” said Konkle. “Our girls are pushed every day to make improvements in every aspect of their game. We preach defense, discipline and taking care of the ball.”
The 2015-16 season was a trying time for Marshall. On February 24, Kari Jolink, a 2001 graduate and All-State basketball player, passed away after a 10 month long battle with lung cancer. After playing under Konkle, she went on to play for Ferris State University and Olivet College. Her motto, “No Regrets,” was an inspiration for the team and their run to a state championship. From Feb. 24 on, Konkle draped Jolink’s number 13 jersey over her chair to pay tribute to Jolink.
“She was gritty; she worked hard on defense; she played every aspect of the game kind of like these girls do,” said Konkle in an interview with MLive.
The Redhawks team is a close-knit group. According to Konkle, the seniors on the 2016-17 team have been playing together since they were in third grade.
“We have known for a long time that this was a special group,” said Konkle. “Although it’s a special group, no one could have predicted last year’s success.”
Konkle was grateful for the BCAM Coach of the Year award; she said that there were many other high school coaches who worked hard and were very deserving. Although she feels very fortunate for the award, nothing compares to the state championship she won in 2015-16.
“Winning that state championship with a team of girls who grew up in Marshall and played in Marshall’s programs their entire lives is by far my top personal coaching accomplishment,” said Konkle.
As the Redhawks look forward to the 2016-17 season, they have a chance to win another Class B state championship. Jill Konkle led the team with 13 points in the championship game against Grand Rapids South Christian and will return to play for her mother and coach in 2016-17. They’re at the top of the mountain, and Konkle knows they will have targets on their backs.
“The goal for this year is simply to get better,” said Konkle. “There’s definitely a target on our backs, and we understand that we have to continue to improve as coaches, players and as a team so we can achieve the success we had last year.”