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Rift dwindles Oak Creek girls basketball team's ranks

Four players leave team; coach to step down after season

Feb. 10, 2009

During a time any intrigue concerning the Oak Creek girls basketball team should solely be about competition, it is almost the 180-degree opposite.

Over the last five weeks, four of the 12 players – all seniors - on the opening-night roster have left the team, including one starter. Second-year coach Julie Tyrcha will step down at the end of the season for personal reasons.

The Knights were in third place in the Southeast Conference North Division going into their Feb. 10 game at first-place Muskego with a 9-3 SEC record and 11-5 overall mark. Oak Creek has won two straight SEC North titles and reached the WIAA state quarterfinals last season.

Kelsey Kochanowski, a three-year starter, was the most prominent player to leave. The specific reason for her departure was not disclosed, but a formal school complaint was lodged against Tyrcha for something multiple sources say Tyrcha said to Kochanowski. On Jan. 30, on the bus ride back from Kenosha Tremper, there was a verbal dispute between two players. One of the players involved is no longer on the team.

Sara Larsen, superintendent of the Oak Creek-Franklin Joint School District, said she could not comment on the situation because it would violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

Kim Kochanowski, Kelsey's mother, said she would not comment.

The other players who left the team were Kristen Gilmeister, Stephanie Sherry and Crystal Winkler. Kochanowski, who sprained her back at a tournament in Green Bay Dec. 29, averaged 1.6 points a game, Sherry 1.4, Winkler 0.6 and Gilmeister 0.4. Some girls have since been promoted from the junior varsity to the varsity roster.

There was a Feb. 5 meeting in the school library that included Larsen, principal Paul Sigler, associate principal Michael Read and athletic director Greg Lampe. Parents of players still on the varsity were allowed to attend, but parents of the players who left as well as those of players on the junior varsity, youth team coaches and others were kept out. Captains Victoria Cruz and Jenn Deptula were at the meeting for a time. Another captain, Stephanie Running, did not attend because she was ill.

The meeting was requested by Al Rodriguez, father of junior guard Angela Rodriguez. The purpose was to discuss the problems surrounding the team. His request was made to Lampe.

It was during the 45-minute meeting that, according to a parent at the meeting, Sigler said Tyrcha would not coach beyond this season.

"All they wanted to talk about was how to improve the team the rest of the games and save the season," Rodriguez said. "That's basically what they wanted to do."

At some time that night, one player said Tyrcha told the team she was leaving because the season had taken a toll on her. Tyrcha also said she wanted to spend more time with her husband, concentrate on teaching – she is a math teacher at the high school – and spend time with her ill father.

Lampe and Tyrcha have not returned voicemail messages seeking comment.

Larsen, who initially said, "It's not a news story that I need to comment on," did give answers about Tyrcha.

"She has chosen to move into an assistant position, primarily for family reasons," Larsen said.

When asked if the position was within the basketball program, Larsen said, "Yes."

At the end of the conversation, Larsen chuckled and said, "This is a small blip considering we're mostly here about education."

Jerry Karpowicz can be reached at (262) 446-6628.

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