After a year away from high school softball, Kevin Kaalberg was in search of an opportunity to lead a high school program once again.
He recently coached four seasons at West Branch but has spent the last year and a half with the Eastern Iowa Barracudas, an ASA softball team.
With Steve Hopkins’ departure from Durant after 11 seasons and a 336-84 record, the team that spent a large portion of the summer ranked No. 1 in Class 2A needed a coach. After a few months of searching, the Durant School Board approved Kaalberg as the next Wildcats’ softball coach Monday night.
Kaalberg met with Durant players and parents Wednesday night for the first time as winter open gyms are about to begin.
“We felt he was going to be a good fit here,” Durant athletic director Matt Straube said. “We think he’s going to be good with developing our younger players with his varsity and ASA experience.”
Kaalberg has been a softball coach for 15 years, starting with a 10-year stint coaching the Mid-Prairie Nitro, the ASA team his daughter played for. He coached the team from when they were 11 years old through when they graduated high school.
Then, Kaalberg spent four seasons at West Branch from 2014-17.
“I went to West Branch to try to build a program,” Kaalberg said. “Softball wasn’t a priority there, and we became competitive.”
Kaalberg decided to apply for the Durant opening after speaking with Hopkins at an ASA tournament earlier this fall.
“One thing I missed while coaching travel ball is the day-to-day interactions and relationship you build with players in high school ball by being around them all summer,” Kaalberg said. “I have a great deal of respect for coach Hopkins, always have. After talking with him I decided to go ahead and apply.”
So, what did the former Durant coach say to convince Kaalberg that Durant was the right place to get back into high school coaching?
“Over the years talking to him about the sport he said there’s a lot of support at Durant for the program,” Kaalberg said.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the Wildcats figure to return everybody but Jalyn Bullard off last year’s 32-3 team. Among that group are its two top pitchers — Kamryn Meyer and Jenna Lawson — as well as all-state infielder Hannah Happ.
“I knew Durant had a really talented group of kids coming back,” Kaalberg said. “I would go anywhere, it doesn’t matter who’s coming back or what kind of shape the program is in. I wasn’t necessarily looking for that, but I’m not going to turn it away.”
However, Kaalberg plans to take on much more responsibility than just coaching the high school program. He believes being a high school coach starts with helping the youth program. That includes holding clinics with youth coaches and even coaching the youth teams on occasion.
“In order to have consistency in your program you have to have consistency all the way through the youth program,” Kaalberg said. “You only do that if you participate and help the youth coaches. I don’t want to dictate to them. I want to help them.
“I’ve always felt that’s a very important piece to building a program. You’re not just coaching a high school team, you’re building a program.”