As the clock strikes 3, it’s usually time for practice when you’re in Athletic Director/Women’s Basketball Coach Misty Opat’s world.
However, this was special.
Opat and her team of coaches and assistants had just finished setting up for a 16-team preseason JUCO (Junior College) basketball jamboree, here at Rock Valley’s Physical Education Center aka The Nest. The line to get in this tourney is wait-listed and elusive to enter. All day long she is tending to the pressing tasks that mount each day. If people saw what her schedule looks like, week by week, they would balk and walk away.
When it comes to students, regardless of her fast-paced schedule, her door is always open for anyone to walk in and talk about practice, life, or shoot the breeze (briefly). Moving through recruitment schedules, fundraisers for the booster club, or checklists to make sure the program who has the next game is set up; she sits down and game plans with her assistant coach Cierra Morris about what practice is going to look like. Opat may be on the pedestal with the amount of bling Wonder Woman or Batman may have, but she’s just like you and me, making every moment count and giving your best.
Under Opat’s reign, Rock Valley’s sports programs have seen 12 championships presented their way. 4 straight in softball, 4 in 6 years with women’s basketball, 1 in tennis, 1 in volleyball, and 2 in 3 years with men’s basketball. It took 3 years for a championship to be won (Volleyball 2011) under her leadership. Even though last semester brought great moments, for Opat, it’s time for the next one.
Her determination doesn’t wither after a championship, but instead, that fire for excellence grows with each passing semester. Opat wins championships collectively, not participation trophies individually. The winner’s mountaintop gets to celebrate ring ceremonies and championships, but the time will come where the valley awaits and the next round of competitors are ready to climb to champions peak.
For RVC sports programs, the fight is real. Week in week out, it’s not all rings and dreamy scenarios of silver-lined clouds waltzing into the “big game.” The glitter and glamour quickly fades, but what stays are the shades of hustle and grit. It’s the accumulation of recurring practice, the hours of serving at the BMO, and the early class days as they turn into late game nights. This makes the fight to the top real. There’s no time for sitting back, and those that do, no one remembers them anyway.
Opat with the NJCAA schedulers make sure there’s no easy break for our top-tier DIII JUCO program. These programs are built to grow through the forging of a schedule that will make or break champions.
RVC plays a lot of tough DII and DI programs at the beginning of their season before DIII conference games saddle up. This shapes these teams to bond together and win or reassess and realize the kinks in the armor, and plan to resolve issues for the next game. In recent memories, it’s these scenes of the season, that build inner strength as a team, and championships gleam.
In the end, it’s not solely about rings, but for Opat and her coaches, it’s making sure that these players grow into the best athlete and person they can be. Back to that open door: life, family, and future conversations happen in that office. Hypothetically that door translates to unity through vulnerability; whether it’s talks in the office, basketball court, or bus ride, the bond is clearly there for some. For others, time will be the truest test, as the wide-eyed fresh out of high school stars learn what it’s like to really be a team and choose to win together. As the sparkles of diamonds are the goal, it’s the lack of glitter that gets them there. Whether they move on to 4-year schools and compete to the top or go on and chase after their educational goals, the coaching staff knows these student-athletes will continue to, “Own It.”
Anyone who comes to a game and watches these women play, there’s an aggressiveness and a tenacity to win that easily emulates an intense WNBA game. About her style, Opat nods, “We want to push and set the tempo for every single game.”
Last season that mindset set them to win by 40 points and above, multiple times, and win 22 games in a row. The prep for the upcoming season on the women’s side has arrived. Opat is refreshed and invigorated for the upcoming climb.
“Seeing the students on the court and talking with them gets me fired up and ready to go. We’re learning our dynamics as a team and quickly realizing what we need to shore up to win,” Opat remarked.
The 16 team jamboree will be a great indicator of where RVC is at and where the potential lies. As far as indicators go, the women’s sports program as a whole should raise eyebrows and cause double-takes. The standard that Opat runs with her basketball team, it’s seen with success in softball and translates to healthy growth on the soccer and volleyball teams.
On the men’s side, the competition is congested with a lot of DI and DII colleges that have more resources to dedicate to their sports programs. The bar is still set high.
Having an easy schedule to fly through for a perfect 35-0 season like other programs have, is not the point. “When I first got the job (Athletic Director) I said let’s run this like a NCAA DI program. Obviously, we don’t have the budget or money, but we can work like it!” That is what anyone will see, tough team-building non-conference play to start the season and then the schedule transitions to conference play where the road to gold is clearly marked out. The perfect idea behind this is, “You can’t be the best if you’re scared to play the best,” said Opat with a smile.
While season schedules and demands swirl around waiting to be tackled, Opat still finds time to be refreshed. She has surrounded herself with a superb staff to carry the load of the season. The way her and the staff support, encourage, and respect others (students and athletes) makes it worthwhile.
This is most likely why there is a small turnover in the staff. They commit to the vision and carry it out gracefully. Whether it’s the process of developing a soccer program that is still relatively 4-years young or rolling up their sleeves as a staff and setting up an event, they are dependable.
All in all being a mentor, coach, counselor, or mother figure, this is her favorite part of the job. To help these students and make an impact so they’re making a positive difference. “Too many times everybody is busy with their schedules, that they forget to help people,“ said Opat.
As RVC readies for 12 new basketball student-athletes that are going to work to discover leadership, it’s clear that Opat will fast track them on pace. Working the press and running the court in hopes that the idea of #OwnIt will stick not just on the court, but for life.
November 4th is the ring ceremony where Opat has the honor to deliver the well-deserved championship rings to each lady on the basketball team from last year. Juxtaposing to this upcoming season, it’s quickly becoming special than years past. RVC is going to host the NJCAA DIII Women’s National Championship Tournament, and it would be incredibly amazing if these ladies who have been champions in 4 of 6 seasons, go on and prove once again who runs the court at home. Either they’ll be spoiled playing the National Championship game or (God forbid) working it and watching the victors crowned on home court. Either way, this will be another fun season to cheer on the Golden Eagles.
For Opat this is what the job is all about; having fun, growing character, and winning championships. She and the staff are clearly committed to the long haul.
Being a Golden Eagle in this season is perfect, and Misty Opat wouldn’t want it any other way.