LAFAYETTE — Stephen Strojny wasn’t always the composed, and at times even stoic, figure that now paces back and forth on the hardwood.
Before Strojny was drawing up plays as the St. Thomas More’s girls basketball coach, he was suiting up for famed STM boys coach Danny Broussard in the early 1990s. The player Broussard had more than two decades ago was a little, no scratch that, a lot less reserved than the now 41-year-old man who is in charge of the Lady Cougars.
“He was one of most aggressive players I ever coached,” Broussard said.
“He was a scrappy kid who always played with a lot of intensity. We had some physical contests with teams, and he never backed down. That’s why I am always taken aback with his composure because it is a lot better than when he was a player. I amazed at how composed and calm he is because I can’t coach like that.”
Strojny may not coach in a demonstrative way, but that doesn’t mean that his Lady Cougars lack intensity. In his three-plus seasons at the helm, Strojny has led STM to the playoffs three times, including a pair of trips to the state semifinals and a state runner-up finish in 2013.
Heading into Friday night’s District 4-4A game at Beau Chene, STM had a 17-2 record, including 7-0 in District 4-4A play and currently sits atop the LHSAA’s Class 4A power rankings.
“Our girls are really confident right now,” said Strojny, who after graduating from Louisiana-Lafayette spent three years overseas in the Peace Corps. “They feel really good when we show up for a district game on Tuesday and Friday nights.
“They feel confident in mind and body. Their primary goal is when they walk into a gym is to see how to make their teammates better. That’s not one person walking into the gym saying how many points am I am getting tonight. That is the key.”
That team-first mindset helped STM overcome the shocking midseason departure of sophomore Megan Abrams. The 2015 all-district honoree, who was averaging 15 points per game, transferred to Lafayette Christian Academy in the beginning of January.
That put more pressure on the team, but Lady Cougar players Bailey Hemphill, Grace Barrilleaux, Allyson Howard, Avery Breaux and Ashton Bourque have responded. Since losing two out of three games at the KSA Shootout in Orlando in late December (with Abrams), the Lady Cougars have won nine straight games without their former teammate.
“There is a silver lining to every dark cloud,” Strojny said. “We didn’t sit around and feel sorry for ourselves and we didn’t sit around expecting anyone us to feel sorry for us either. St. Thomas More has been around for 30-plus years, and there have been some really great athletes come and go through the school. Regardless of who is here or who leaves, we expect to win, that is the culture of this team.
“I don’t feel like we have five starters … We have 10 starters,” Strojny said.
“I think it is a testament to his program,” Broussard said. “I think we’ve always been that way he and I; that we never center our teams on one player. All of that happens is that other girls stepped up in their roles. I am not surprised at all at how they have performed.”
The team’s current winning streak includes a milestone for Strojny, his 100th career victory, which came earlier this week in STM’s 55-41 victory over Northside. Strojny, though, gives all the credit to his players and the team’s “ascending model” for the milestone. In particular he credits the team’s “unselfishness” and offseason and in-season weight training.
Strojny’s calmer coaching persona may still surprise his old coach, but his success on the court didn’t. Broussard knew Strojny’s potential even before he did.
“A few years back he came into the office, and he was frustrated,” Broussard said.
“He had a few girls that were focusing just on one sport. He was having trouble getting girls to come out, and it looked like his numbers were dwindling. He came to me and said, ‘Coach, I don’t know what to do but I may want to get back on your staff as an assistant.’ I told him, ‘Hey Steve, just take a deep breath. You are doing a good job with that program. You will be just fine.’ ”