MARQUETTE - Talent must be a wonderful thing to coach. But it usually adds pressure because of all the expectations that come with it.
Mike O'Donnell has dealt with that pressure as the head boys varsity basketball coach at Negaunee High School for most of the past nine years and handled it well enough to earn his second consecutive and third overall Class ABC Coach of the Year honor.
The award was voted on by the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association at its annual basketball meeting held Tuesday in Marquette.
Negaunee coach Michael O'Donnell, center, and the Negaunee bench watch in the closing minutes of their 69-54 loss to Detroit Consortium in their MHSAA Class C semifinal game Thursday, March 20, 2014, in East Lansing, Mich. (Photo by Al Goldis)
O'Donnell won the award by acclimation after the Miners finished the regular season at 19-1 and reached the state Class C semifinals, both for the second straight season, to finish at 24-2. The team has played in the Class C quarterfinals for four years in a row.
In Class D, Adam Mercier of North Central was an easy winner over Jacob Polfus of Carney-Nadeau, 21-3, in the voting.
The Powers team went 20-0 in the regular season and reached its regional championship game before losing for the only time all year. C-N went 16-4 in the regular season and had marks of 8-3 in the Central U.P. and 9-3 in the Skyline conferences.
O'Donnell, who was also ABC Coach of the Year in 2008 and 2013, had plenty of talent to work with this season as all-state guard Tyler Jandron entered his senior year and fellow guard Eric Lori came into his own for his final season, too.
But the Miners coach had to nearly start over on his front line, bringing a previous platoon starter, senior Zane Radloff, to the forefront along with two first-year varsity players - junior Robert Loy and sophomore Jay Lori, Eric's brother.
Eric Lori missed several games early in the season, including Negaunee's only regular-season loss, 51-40 at home to Marquette. Even when he came back, Negaunee often was two-dimensional in scoring with its guards netting the lions' share of points.
But as the regular season drew down, Radloff and Jay Lori started producing much more offensively, while Jay Lori also had monster rebounding games like the 17 he grabbed in the district tournament opener vs. Gwinn.
Mercier also had a talented group at North Central, but had to manage his roster after some previous starters reportedly had to spend more time on the bench to let other players onto the court.
Through all that, the team shone led by all-stater Travis Vincent, winning 18 of 20 regular-season games by double digits.
Polfus guided a team that challenged all comers after most thought he would have to rebuild due to heavy losses of talent from the past year, including now-Northern Michigan University player Wade Schetter.