After 25 seasons, Duane Schwab steps down as Lake Region women’s coach
DEVILS LAKE — The phone rings and Duane Schwab picks it up. “Coach Schwab,” he answers.
Old habits are hard to break.
After a long career as a basketball coach, including the past 25 seasons as the head women’s coach here at Lake Region State College, it is now ex-coach Schwab.
The 66-year-old Schwab has retired from the coaching ranks. His last game on the sidelines was when the Lady Royals were eliminated in March at this season’s junior college national tournament.
“It’s just a habit,” Schwab said of his phone greeting. “I’ve been doing it so long, it’s ingrained in me.
“There are things I’m going to miss. Even the last practice, I still enjoyed it. It’s been a fun ride. But Father Time is catching up to me. It’s time for somebody else to have the fun.”
A career that almost wasn’t
This season’s trip to the junior college national tournament was the ninth for the Lady Royals under Schwab’s leadership. In his 25 seasons with the program, Schwab compiled a 572-243 record.
It is a highly successful college career and a local-boy-makes-good story that almost never happened.
Schwab was a 1966 Devils Lake St. Mary’s High School graduate. He played two seasons of baseball and basketball at Lake Region, then two seasons of the two sports at Minot State.
After a season as head baseball coach at Lake Region, Schwab went to Lakota High School for five years, where he was head coach in boys basketball, football and track. He led Lakota to the 1975 and 1976 Class B boys state basketball tournaments. That was followed by two more seasons at Lake Region — then private business.
“I thought I was burned out in coaching,” Schwab said. “One day I walked into a convenience store, bought a Coke and a candy bar, started talking to the owner and then asked if it was for sale. I bought it and ran it for three years.
“The first year I didn’t miss basketball. I didn’t go to a single game. By the third year, I went to every game I could. My wife (Linda) finally said, ‘You miss coaching. Why don’t you get back into it.’ “
Schwab returned to the high school coaching ranks, spending six years at Crary. After Tim Jacobson resigned as women’s basketball coach at Lake Region, then-Lake Region athletic director Terry Porter asked Schwab if he was interested in the job.
Schwab got the job at the start of the 1989-90 school year and has been there ever since. “I’ve had opportunities to move,” Schwab said. “But I liked it here. And we had good things going.”
Heavy Class B draw
Schwab has a two-word answer for the big reason for his success. “Good players.”
He won a lot of games with a lot of local talent. He’s had a lot of Devils Lake High School players on his rosters. But the biggest talent source has been the North Dakota Class B high school ranks.
“We tried to stay local as much as we could, and girls basketball in North Dakota has been pretty darn good,” Schwab said. “We were always finding good athletes. We recruited Class B pretty heavily.
“They were always good offensive players. They could shoot and handle the ball. We had to teach them how to play defense and be good all-around players. That was fun. I enjoyed the teaching part of the game. And you could see how hungry those small-town kids were to play college basketball.”
Schwab has had to expand his recruiting area. In recent years, he’s brought in players from Australia, Africa, Europe, Asia and the Bahamas.
“It was hard for us to find good big kids around here after awhile,” Schwab said. “UND and NDSU always were getting first dibs on those types of players.”
Schwab found his share of quality players. He coached All-America selections Darcy Deutsch (1990), Sarah Cofer (1992), Brooke Treleaven (1996), Shantelle Rolle (1997), Cara Demaine (2001-02) and Rebecca Mercer (2005), plus countless other Mon-Dak all-conference selections.
There was more to basketball than just winning, though. “We never in my 25 years of coaching here lost a kid due to academic ineligibility,” Schwab said, obviously proud of the fact.
Things he’ll miss
Schwab is still teaching a few classes. But, as of May 15, he no longer will be a teacher, coach or athletic director. Danny Mertens, his assistant coach for the past several seasons, will take over Schwab’s duties as AD and head women’s basketball coach.
“There are things I’ll miss,” Schwab said. “The practices — even our last one, I enjoyed it. That’s a time for teaching. I really enjoyed that. I really enjoyed recruiting, the thousands of people you meet. I’ll miss that. And that feeling you get before every game, I’ll miss that.”
What he won’t miss is the road trips. Bottineau was the closest opponent for Lake Region — that was 220 miles round trip. Bismarck was the next closest, a six-hour round trip.
“We did all our traveling by bus,” Schwab said. “I won’t miss that, going to a game, playing, then getting back on the bus and getting home at 2, 3, 4 in the morning.”
From a coaching standpoint, however, it has been one long, enjoyable ride for Schwab — especially when he nearly left the profession more than three decades ago. “Isn’t that crazy when you think about it,” Schwab said.