Oscoda’s Toppi says Coach of the Year award is a team honor

News File Photo Oscoda girls basketball coach Mark Toppi, center, gives instructions to his team in a timeout during a girls basketball game at Oscoda High School. Toppi, who has coached Oscoda for three seasons, was recently named Class C Coach of the Year by the Associated Press.

It wasn’t too long ago that wins were hard to come by for the Oscoda girls basketball team.

Under Mark Toppi, the Owls have had quite a turnaround.

The Owls went 13-9 this season and advanced to a Class C district final in their best finish in 33 years.

Oscoda’s success and Toppi’s leadership didn’t go unnoticed as Toppi was named the Class C Coach of the Year by the Associated Press last month.

Toppi, a 1985 graduate of Oscoda, has led Oscoda’s program for three seasons and steadily turned the Owls into an up-and-coming team in the North Star League. In Toppi’s first season, the Owls went 3-17, but improved to 7-14 last season.

“I’m pretty excited to get it. I was happy, but this is definitely a team award. We’ve got some good players, good parents who are putting in work in the summer,” Toppi said. “I was on vacation in Myrtle Beach and got a call from (Bay City Times writer) Lee Thompson. He said ‘I’ve got some good news for you, you were voted AP Coach of the Year.'”

With a smaller roster of just six, the Owls set out to double their winner total this season and came close.

A win in early February gave Oscoda its ninth win, its highest season total since 1996 and the Owls’ 13 total wins gave them their second winning season in 30 years.

Not a bad way to finish for a program that won just a handful of games from 1998-2003 and had four consecutive seasons without a victory during that stretch.

Oscoda finished fourth in the North Star League this season and lost three of its games by 10 points or less. One loss was a 61-60 setback against Posen and another was a six-point loss to Alcona in the district final. Four of Oscoda’s other losses came against Hillman and Rogers City, who finished 1-2 in the league.

“We lost a few close ones we should have won and struggled with only six players,” Toppi said. “It was nice to beat Johannesburg-Lewiston (in districts). They basically returned everybody (from) last season and we beat them by 23.”

With Toppi leading the Owls’ rebuilding efforts, Oscoda’s players didn’t go unnoticed either. Junior Katelyn Etherton earned a Class C all-state honorable mention and she and sophomore Lauren Langley earned first team all-North Star League honors. The duo made Oscoda the only team with two first team all-league selections and both players were among the area’s leaders in scoring with 17.3 points per game averages.

When Toppi took over the program in 2015, the Owls had won just five games over the previous two years. Toppi knew he faced a tough task of rebuilding, but made sure everyone was on the same page from the beginning.

“I got all the parents together (and told them) I’m not doing it for the money. I was doing it for us to get better,” Toppi said. “I wanted to win.”

Toppi’s vision of a winning program was first realized at the youth level when Oscoda’s travel program, the Angels, played tough competition and gradually improved from winning just a few games to winning tournament titles.

That translated to high school where players from the Angels eventually joined the varsity squad and committed themselves to putting in work in the gym and playing tough competition in a summer league.

Oscoda’s middle school program has been successful too, losing just a few games in the last couple of years and Oscoda’s JV team went 13-7 this season.

“I think they kind of realize what we were doing, trying to build up the program,” Toppi said of his players.

With its entire roster set to return next season, Toppi is hoping the Owls can reach even higher heights.

“Every single girl is coming back. I think we’ve just got to get a little more mature,” Toppi said. “It could be our best season ever.”

James Andersen can be reached via email at sports@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5694. Follow James on Twitter @ja_alpenanews.