By Kyle Daubs
Amanda Aydt probably had the best well-kept secret among the Coles County public.
Coach Aydt is often soft-spoken and reserved when it comes to talking to the media. It’s been her style ever since she took over the varsity girls program in 2014. There’s nothing wrong with it, but that’s why when Mallory Ramage let it out that Aydt knows her way around the joke mill, all you want to do is know more.
Apparently, she’s hilarious.
“Coach Aydt is really funny,” said Ramage. “She talks way more than what other people think.”
And don’t expect the players to give any of her jokes away either.
“I don’t think there is a story I can give that won’t get me in trouble,” said senior guard Faith Niebrugge with a laugh.
The senior class echoed the same sentiments that their relationship with their coach is very close, which is why it can feel pretty loose at times.
“Especially this year,’ said senior Chloe Pruitt. “We are joking around her and laughing at the little things more often. You wouldn’t expect her to laugh, but she does a lot of the time and that’s something we have noticed more this year.”
Why wouldn’t Mattoon be smiling these days?
The Green Wave awaits the next IHSA AP Poll, where they will likely be ranked in the top-4 at the bare minimum. Anything outside of that would be disrespectful to a team that won its holiday tournament, which included two wins over state-ranked Mahomet-Seymour.
Mattoon is ranked No. 1, overall according to MaxPreps rankings, but that is just one data source. Regardless of what the rankings say, the common theme among players is that a lot of this success comes from Coach Aydt.
“I don’t know how she does it, but she just has a knack for knowing where to put us to be the most successful,” said Niebrugge. “She watches us in practice and what we do in practice will lead into the games. I remember one time we played against Taylorville, and we didn’t practice well, and then we played into our game like how we practiced. She talks about that a lot.”
Outside of the 49-48 win over Taylorville, and a 56-48 loss to No. 5 ranked Lincoln, everything has gone Mattoon’s way this season.
The 14-1 team enters the 2022 calendar year with high hopes. With what is left on the schedule, Mattoon could make a run at the school record for wins in a season, which was 30-2 in 2016-2017. That team featured two college athletes in Avery Jackson and Sierra Thompson.
While this team features a Division I prospect of its own in Ramage, few imagined this kind of start.
“It’s nice because we don’t just talk about winning, but we talk about how we are here to play as a family,” said Niebrugge. “We all have a connection with each other. The family atmosphere is real and nice to have all of the time.”
Not to mention, the Green Wave lost three starters from last season, two of which are playing Division I sports outside of basketball in Delainey Bryant in softball and Kylie Haacke in cross country. Losing that kind of experience is hard, but Coach Adyt never wavered in setting forth the same goals for this season.
“All of the seniors were nervous before the year began because we didn’t know what to expect after we lost all the girls we had from the past year,” said Pruitt. “Coach never had doubts. She never gave us anything for us to believe that we would not be as good this year. She has been super encouraging. I think she knew that we would be this good when nobody else did.”
While all jokes aside, finding out that Coach Aydt has a soft spot for humor could be a surprise to the public. Aydt has been notorious for offering the same talking points after each game, mostly repeating that everybody played hard and that she’s proud of the players statement in the past. But one can’t fault her for getting players to buy-in to her approach.
There is proof once again this season.
Go to a game and watch Aydt in the huddle. She’s not Dave Johnson or Jeff Miller animated, but you know that everyone is listening.
And her players echo the same sentiments.
“We can tell when Coach Aydt is getting on us, even through the mask,” said Ramage. “When she stomps her foot, you know she is mad. But, that is why she is a really good coach and we love being coached by her.”
If she wasn’t acting that way, then the team would sense a problem.
“My parents raised me to handle that,” said Niebrugge. “When she yells at us, I know that she wants me to push harder. She knows we can do better and she always pushes us to do better. Honestly, if she didn’t, I don’t know if we would try as hard.”
Ramage agrees 100%.
“I think Coach Aydt plays a huge part in our success,” said Ramage. “At practice, she makes us run if we are not doing things right. She is always trying to make us better. She understands that we work well as a team.”
This team has 14 regular-season games left on the schedule. Throw in two games in the postseason, the team has a clear path to 30 wins, even if the team lost one game along the way. At the beginning of the year, players wrote down their goals.
One of those included winning an IHSA Regional Championship.
Sure enough, that is often brought up by their coach.
“We want to win a regional,” said Pruitt. “Coach often goes back to that a lot to try and encourage us and to keep our minds open to what we are capable of doing.”
At this point, a Regional could just be the tipping point.
Coach Aydt has these girls believing.
Whatever the AP Poll says this week, it’s time Coles County starts believing, too.