WARSAW – Michelle Harter says that she has spent the past 26 years as a high school girls basketball coach trying to impact the lives of young ladies.
The classy Harter, who has spent the last nine seasons as the WCHS girls basketball head coach, announced her resignation to her final team earlier today.
“It’s the time in my life that I’m ready for a change,” said Harter in an interview in the Tiger Den shortly after she informed her 2016-17 squad of her decision. “This is something that I have thought about for the last few years and this felt like the right time to do it.”
Harter spent 16 seasons as the junior varsity coach for the program under Will Wienhorst and John Snyder before taking over in 2008. She went 136-70 in her tenure with a pair of sectional championships (2013 and 2015) and two Northern Lakes Conference titles (2010, 2013). Her 2012-13 team, led by Lindsay Baker and Jennifer Walker-Crawford and Nikki Grose, went 24-2 and won Class 4-A sectional and regional titles before losing 47-44 to Fort Wayne South in a semistate game in front of a packed house on the Tiger Den floor.
Harter was a standout player at Wawasee High School and then at Huntington University. She helped the Warriors post a 23-2 mark during her junior season in 1984-85, which culminated with a 48-31 loss to Crown Point in the state championship game. She then had a prolific college career at Huntington, where she scored 1,693 career points and finished with 945 rebounds.
“I hope to move on to coach on the college level,” said Harter of her ambitions. “I have nothing set right now, but I’m looking.”
Harter, who teaches in the health and physical education department at WCHS, guided her final team to a 20-4 mark this past season. The Tigers went 5-2 in the Northern Lakes Conference to tie for second place with Elkhart Memorial and lost to Northridge in the sectional semifinals. Northridge went on to win the Class 4-A Goshen Sectional title and a regional championship before falling in the semistate to eventual state champion Homestead.
The final edition of Harter’s run featured a stellar senior class of six. The Tigers were led by standouts Dayton Groninger and Madi Graham. Groninger, who led the Tigers in scoring the past three seasons and will play at Indiana Wesleyan University next season, scored 1,003 career points, just the sixth player in program history to top 1,000 points. The team also had seniors Page Desenberg, Mariah Rivera, Kenzie Welk and Abby Glass.
The group holds a special place for Harter. The special six started their junior season at 0-9 before responding to finish 11-14 and advance to the sectional finale before losing to eventual state champion Penn in 2016.
“This senior class just did tremendous things for our program,” said Harter of the Class of 2017. “This was the right time for me to go out with this group of girls.
“This was not an easy decision for me. I’ve been here and coaching here a long time (26 years). There was soul searching and a lot of talks with my family. It was just about when was the best time for me and that’s now.”
Harter’s coaching record of 136 varsity wins is second only to Will Wienhorst (316 from 1987-2004) at Warsaw, and her 206 games coached is also second behind only Wienhorst (409).
“Coach Harter has been a tremendous leader for the program,” WCHS Athletic Director Dave Anson said in a release. “The organization, structure, and level of play have been outstanding. We certainly wish her well and hope she has great success with the next stages of her coaching career should she pursue that route.”
Harter, who was was inducted into the Huntington Hall of Fame in November, will have one more chance to coach high school players this year. She was selected last month to be one of two assistant coaches this summer for the Indiana All-Star team. That squad was just announced earlier today and will play its annual two-game series versus Kentucky in June.
“The 2012-2013 season was definitely special,” recounted Harter. “To play in front of the crowd that came out here that day to support our girls in the semistate game was the high point.
“I just remember all the friendships that I have built and the great assistant coaches who I am leaving. All of the great young ladies who I had the opportunity to coach and the opportunity to see grow as people. Those are the things that I will take with me.”
The Tigers are going to look different for sure for whoever takes over the program. The loss of six seniors, who played a ton of varsity games over the past three seasons, leaves plenty of holes. The key players expected back include sophomore Kacy Bragg, freshman Kaylee Patton and juniors Kennedy Patton and Emma Bohnenkamper.
“I think that I leave the program in a good spot,” Harter said. “Whoever takes over has a solid program.”
Anson added that he hopes to have a replacement for Harter hired some time this Spring.
Harter said it simply when she was asked what she wanted her time on the Warsaw bench to be best known for.
“The biggest thing is that the girls who have come through our program have learned valuable life lessons,” concluded Harter. “That’s why I got into coaching to impact lives.”