At the end of December, the Cudahy girls basketball team looked to be in some trouble.
The Packers stood at only 3-5, including 0-4 in the Woodland Conference, and were coming off a dispiriting 56-37 loss to Wauwatosa East to close out 2016.
Also, much to the disappointment of defense-minded coach Bob Maronde, Cudahy was allowing about 50 points per game.
As the calendar turned, however, so did the Packers, who won eight of their first nine games of the new year. They just kept on winning and eventually surged back to win the Woodland East championship at 10-6.
At that point, Cudahy was allowing just about 40 points per game.
The Packers then made a strong run in the WIAA Division 2 tournament, knocking off four teams that had beaten them during the regular season, including Tosa East in the sectional championship contest to earn the school's first trip to the state tournament.
Once there, they beat Hortonville in the state semifinal to reach the title game, where they fell to unbeaten and top-rated Beaver Dam.
The amazing turnaround earned Maronde Now Newspapers All-Suburban Coach of the Year honors for 2016-17.
Maronde certainly knows something about coaching, having led the Grafton girls team to a pair of state championships and having taken a struggling Grafton boys program to a sectional title contest in his first season with the team.
Even he, though, was hard-pressed to come up with a simple explanation for Cudahy's complete change in fortunes.
"I wish I had one clear point for the turnaround," he said. "That would be a magic formula for any season."
As he thought more, he came up with some solid reasons.
"I think it was a process; I was new to the kids, they were new to me, our system was brand new to them," he said. "They had to learn the system and feel comfortable. Once we started winning, we gained a lot of confidence, and going into the (WIAA) tournament, we were confident.
"Our defense came together and kept us in the games. We also cut down on our turnovers. We had to be averaging about 25 turnovers in the 3-5 start, but I think we cut that in half.
"The girls had the attitude of playing hard all the time. Even when we were not playing well, we played hard. That is tough to teach; that comes from inside you."
Maximum effort and dedication were needed, because Cudahy had just eight players on varsity for most of the season. Maronde brought up a couple of junior varsity players for the tournament, increasing the roster to 10, which is still lower than most other teams.
"We had a great group, but with only eight players, I myself had to practice a lot, which was tough," Maronde joked. "It was a tight-knit group, though, so I could do my crazy stories and motivational things.
"I told the girls that we basically had two rules for the season, one that no one could get sick and the second that no one could get hurt, and they pretty much stuck to that."
Maronde said Hannah Kulas, Bailey Eichner and Camryn Kratt played all 44 minutes of Cudahy's 58-55 double-overtime victory over New Berlin West in the regional title game.
"It was great to see the kids persevere through that," he said.
Enjoyed the year
Maronde estimated that he has been coaching in some capacity for 40 years and that this was one of his most enjoyable seasons.
"We had so much fun," he said, "and to be able to watch the players progress and learn to believe in themselves was great."
The players would agree on the point about having fun.
"He is the best coach I have ever had, no question," Eichner said about Maronde after the playoff victory over New Berlin West.
His entire coaching philosophy has always centered around his players.
"At our level, it's about the kids," he said. "The wins and losses are learning experiences, but what is important is getting to know the kids, their plans, their futures. That is what sticks with you as a coach. You tend to forget the scores, but you remember the journey. That is the fun part."