Usually, conference coach of the year honors are reserved for those winning league championships or those directing teams that make big moves up the standings.
That's why it is so notable that West Allis Central baseball head coach Dean Mlachnik shared Greater Metro Conference head coaching honors with Scott Holler of Oak Creek.
Holler's team finished 15-3 to claim the GMC regular-season championship, then also won the conference tournament, pulling off a rare double.
Mlachnik's squad was on the other end of the standings, going 4-14 to share last place with West Allis Hale.
The conference coaches gave Mlachnik a share of the honor in his first season at Central simply because of the vast improvement the team showed despite its final record.
'This is humbling and a great honor,' Mlachnik said. 'The other coaches loved the approach of our team, the desire and the improvement. (In the latter part of the season), every game was competitive. We were not the laughingstock of the conference anymore.'
Central fans also noticed the difference.
'(The team) has changed just in this year alone,' Central booster club president Liz Freuck said. 'We have a new coach and a new philosophy, and the booster club is backing him.'
The Bulldogs made strides as the year progressed. They began with a number of defeats by double digits, but things started to turn after an 11-1 loss to Oak Creek in mid-June.
From that point on, Central was involved in 13 games decided by three or fewer runs, winning four of them.
That included narrow losses to conference champions Kettle Moraine and Pius XI.
'The kids did not quit on the year,' Mlachnik said.
The pitching became stronger behind juniors Michael Manlick and Josh Kopplin.
Manlick was inconsistent but pitched fine games against Sussex Hamilton, Wauwatosa East, Franklin and Greendale. Against the Panthers, he did not allow a run in eight innings in an eventual 1-0 WIAA regional loss.
Kopplin had a respectable 3.50 earned-run average and kept his games close as well.
The defense behind them was solid, but the Bulldogs' downfall was their lack of clutch hitting, as they squandered many scoring opportunities.
Burdick leads hitting
Central's top hitter was senior Brandon Burdick at .448 with 35 runs batted in on the season. Burdick also compiled an on-base percentage of .654, belted three home runs and committed no errors at first base. He made second-team all-conference.
'Burdick was our guy,' Mlachnik said. 'He will leave big shoes to fill.'
Sophomore David Mlachnik batted .327 with 13 RBIs and 12 runs scored.
Burdick was named the team's most valuable offensive player, while senior Dylan Diebitz is the most valuable defensive player. Kopplin won the Bulldogs' pitching award.
Central loses seniors Burdick, Diebitz, Kevin Gerovac, Tanner Duchow, Josh Neary, Victor Perea, Fred Birchbauer III, Tre Nowaczynski and Nick Stachowiak.
Diebitz was one of the better defensive outfielders in the GMC, Mlachnik said, and Perea batted .306 in conference play.
'We had a great year,' Mlachnik said, 'and I was really encouraged by what our seniors said to me, that they wished I had been there for their four years.'