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Kusler transitions from player to coach

Brianna Kusler, coach of the Pierre sophomore boys basketball team, left, laughs as she teases her younger brother Braxton Kusler, right, as he checked into a game earlier this season at the Golden Eagles Arena. Photo by John Davis

Brianna Kusler has learned a lot of life lessons through athletics. Now, the former Aberdeen Central and Northern State standout is passing those lessons on to others.

Kusler spent the past year as the sophomore boys’ basketball coach in Pierre. It was a unique role in that few boys’ teams have female coaches.

“I really didn’t see myself as coaching boys, just because I’d always been around the girls,” Kusler said. “But it’s really no different. I thought it would be a little bit more different coaching boys vs. girls. At the end of the day, basketball is basketball. They’re all still kids that just want to play. They just want to be given an opportunity to compete.”

Kusler played for some of the state’s premier coaches during her hoops career from Dawn Seiler at Aberdeen Central to Curt Fredrickson and Paula Krueger at Northern State. She’s gained an understanding that the game of basketball includes a lot more things than just Xs and Os.

“That’s really something that we kind of harped on early in the season and throughout the season. At the end of the day, we’re not necessarily concerned about how many points we can score and who can do what. I’m worried about controlling what you can control,” Kusler said. “Three of the things are attitude, effort and then how much they’re communicating. The rest of the stuff, the skill work, that will take care of itself. Those are all three things that translate into the real world as well. I think that that’s important to keep in the back of your mind all the time. We’re building these kids for beyond the court as well.”

Make no mistake, Kusler is a fierce competitor who wants to win each time the ball goes up, just like her former coaches. However, she also realizes that there is life outside of basketball.

“Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the wins and the losses. I’m obviously a very competitive person so I want to win no doubt, but at the end of the day, these are athletes that at some point in their life, the game of basketball is going to be done,” Kusler said. “So what are we doing to shape them into strong young men, young women? I really take pride in that, because I was really fortunate to have such incredible coaches growing up that did those things for me, and now it’s my opportunity to do those things for others.”

From leaving her hometown of 23 years to coaching the opposite gender, Kusler has been taken out of her comfort zone this past year. However, she is glad that things worked out the way that they did.

“It was a learning experience no doubt,” Kusler said, “but I couldn’t have asked for a better group of athletes and coaching staff that I was around to really learn from and grow as a coach.”

Kusler’s journey as a first-year coach at Pierre brought her back to Aberdeen for a contest with Aberdeen Central. The game was special for many reasons, including a chance to coach against her brother, Braxton.

Her sibling and mother, Connie, did not want to Pierre to know that Braxton is lefthanded.

“The first time that he gets into the game, he was right in front of our bench,” Kusler said. “To the guy that was guarding him, I said, ‘He’s lefthanded, don’t forget that.’ Braxton gave me a little eye roll. My mom was on the baseline. I think she gave me a little eye roll, too,” Kusler said.

So why did Kusler decide not to keep a family secret?

“I couldn’t. I’m too competitive a person,” Kusler said. “Whatever it takes to win, we’re going to do.”

That trip to Golden Eagles Arena was a unique one, which featured Kusler returning to the same locker room she used to enter as a member of Central’s teams, and facing a lot of familiar faces, not just Braxton.

“Not only just coaching against him, but all of his friends that we’ve grown to know. And obviously all of the coaching staff at Aberdeen Central,” Kusler said. “Coaching against Trent Kurtz, that was definitely a unique experience. It was a little bit bittersweet being back.”

Through the years, the Kusler family has gone to every game they could to support each other. That was another adjustment that Brianna had to make this past year, not being able to attend all of her sister Brooklyn’s events as well as those of Braxton.

“Thank goodness for technology. I at least got to catch quite a few games that way. It was definitely very different,” Kusler said. “Missing a couple of games definitely wasn’t easy. I never wanted to by any means, but that’s part of growing up as well. You’re not always going to be together.”

Kusler said her first year in Pierre went well and she plans on being back on the sidelines coaching boys again next season, no doubt dispersing more life lessons and maybe learning a few more as well.

“I think the boys have definitely taught me more than what I’ve taught them,” Kusler said.

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