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Girls co-coach of year: Following lead of his Pius X mentors, Ryan Psota leaving his own imprint with Bolts

From the The centerpiece: The stories that have highlighted the Journal Star's sports sections in July series
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Girls co-coach of year, 06.10

Ryan Psota, who has led the Lincoln Pius X girls basketball program to a 51-1 record over two state championship seasons, is the 2021 Journal Star girls co-coach of the year.

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Ryan Psota wanted to teach and coach, and he didn't have to go far to begin building his knowledge and principles when he first arrived at Lincoln Pius X.

His first undertaking at the school was a student-teaching job. He was assigned to work under Jake Moore, who was in the midst of leading the Thunderbolts' volleyball program to 700-plus wins and seven state titles.

It didn't take long for Psota to start coaching. He served as an assistant to Hall of Famer George O'Boyle in track. He worked for football coach Tim Aylward, who will soon be inducted into the Nebraska High School Sports Hall of Fame. And for 18 years he worked alongside Bill Rice, who built Pius X girls basketball into a perennial power.

"We've had some really good long-term successful coaches here that I can take away a lot of knowledge from," Psota said. "Just being able to be around and picking their brains and seeing how they lead groups was invaluable."

Psota is beginning to follow his mentors' lead in building and maintaining success while expanding his own imprint at Pius X.

He took over as head girls basketball coach in 2018. In three seasons he has led the Thunderbolts to three state semifinal appearances and two Class A championships. After guiding the 2020-21 Thunderbolts to a 25-0 record — the first Class A team to finish unbeaten since 2005 — Psota is the Journal Star's girls co-coach of the year, sharing the honor with Omaha Skutt soccer coach John Carlson.

Pius X defended its state title in impressive fashion. Led by Super-State honorary captain and Husker recruit Alexis Markowski, the Thunderbolts won 21 games by double-digits. And when the contests were tight, the players never cracked, executing game plans with confidence and trust.

"The biggest thing with this group is they were so motivated and so on-task every night and locked in that I really didn't have to say a whole lot," Psota said. "It was just a group ... they were lights out every game this season."

Psota waited a long time for a chance to become a head coach.

A UNL graduate, he began working under Rice in 2000, guiding the Pius X freshman teams for two years before moving to varsity assistant. Sure, there were opportunities to leave for head coaching jobs at other schools. But Psota felt at home at Pius X.

"Just the amount of parent support and school support and the investment that our kids put into things, it was just a no-brainer to wait it out," he said.

Psota learned a lot from Rice, most notably the amount of time it takes to build a winning program. Psota also was given some top responsibilities, including the handling of the team's defensive game plans and scouting.

Rice saw someone with the tools to be a head coach.

"(He was) willing to spend extra hours," Rice said. "Before Hudl and all that, we used to travel to scout opponents all the time and we got to know each other really well traveling together, then we used to take the kids to summer camps. Just really wanting to put in the extra time to have a good program."

As a head coach, Psota wanted to follow Rice's recipe for success: surround oneself with good assistants and let them be hands-on with the team.

It's a philosophy Psota learned from O'Boyle, who has coached track and cross country at Pius X for more than 50 years.

"He always said, 'Let your assistant coaches coach,'" Psota said. "If you're going to have somebody on your staff and you trust them, let them teach. Bill did the same thing with me, letting us have input."

Lincoln Pius X vs. Fremont, 3.6

Lincoln Pius X coaches Ryan Psota (right) and Andy Markowski watch the action against Fremont during the Class A state championship game at Pinnacle Bank Arena on March 6.

When Psota took the reins, the biggest thing was building a quality coaching staff that cared about the kids. Adding Andy Markowski was a 'no-brainer,' Psota said. Markowski played at Nebraska and had coached at the Division I level. Psota credits Markowski's scouts as a critical part to the Thunderbolts never missing a beat this past season.

The staff also includes Kole Harrach, Emily Isaacs and Haley Hall.

Why does the staff mesh so well?

"We want to win," Psota said. "We all have the same common goal, we care about kids and we want kids to be treated the right way. When you treat people the right way, I think you're going to get better effort out of them and they're going to appreciate the process a lot more."

The process also includes the support of Psota's family. His wife, Jessica, is a counselor at Pius X, and they have three young children — Makenna (age 7), Adalyn (5) and Kade (2).

Makenna wants to be a water girl, and of course, a basketball player.

"It's a team approach," said Psota, who continues to coach Pius X's hurdlers in the spring. "My wife is invested as I am in our success."

Psota is eager for the challenge that comes with continuing Pius X's hardwood success. The Thunderbolts are 71-6 under Psota, including 51-1 over the past two seasons.

The team must replace a senior class that included Markowski, Super-State point guard Jillian Aschoff and a superb defender in Miriam Miller. But there remains a lot of talent and momentum. Pius X has more than 50 girls in its basketball program.

They'll get a chance to carry the torch and embrace the expectations set by Psota, and those like Moore, O'Boyle, Aylward and Rice who helped set a winning foundation at Pius X.

"For a lot of schools, the goal is to get to state," Psota said. "Here at Pius X, our goal is to win state or to be right there at the end. That's kind of the expectation.

"Like I said to the kids every year, my goal is to get you to have that experience on Championship Saturday. If we can come close to that every year, I'll be satisfied with what we're doing. We've gotten the program that was already way up here and maybe taking a step higher, but now it's time to maintain that consistency."

Reach Clark Grell at 402-473-2639 or cgrell@journalstar.com. On Twitter at @LJSSportsGrell.

This article originally ran on journalstar.com.

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