Photo by Chad Koenen
Henning head coach Mike Hepola recently picked up his 300th career win as head coach. 

By Chad Koenen


For the past 24 years Mike Hepola has been guiding the Henning girls basketball program to new heights on the court. 

During his tenure the Hornets have won a number of conference titles, advanced to their first and only state basketball tournament, and came just minutes away from advancing to another state berth. Through all of the highs and lows, Hepola has remained as a stable force within the Henning basketball program on his way to an accomplishment not commonly seen these days—300 career wins.

While he points out that he has suffered just as many losses as wins, Hepola etched his name in Henning history with a 61-21 win over Sebeka on Saturday, Feb. 4 to secure his 300th win. What made the win even more memorable was the fact that Hepola coached the Trojans for two years prior to coming to Henning High School in 1999. 

The longtime coach said he was surprised to learn that he was even close to 300 wins in the first place. He credited longevity as being one of the reasons for being able to hit such a big milestone. 

Even though there have been some memorable moments on the court, Hepola said the wins and losses aren’t necessarily what he remembers the most about coaching—it is getting to know the players and their families through the years. 

“The kids and I don’t care if they were a starter or not,” said Hepola of what he enjoys the most about coaching. “Having the former players (come to games to catch up) and seeing what they are doing now.”

When Hepola came to Henning during the 1999-2000 school year, the girls basketball team was in the middle of a number of coaching changes in a short period of time. The same was happening for the volleyball program as both teams struggled to find consistency on the court, despite having a number of talented athletes. As a result, both the girls basketball and volleyball teams struggled to get wins in the right column. 

“We had good players, but we didn’t have that buy in for volleyball and basketball,” said Hepola. “There wasn’t that team consistency.”

After coaching at Sebeka for two years, Hepola brought a defensive focus to Henning. During his first 12 years as head coach the Hornets were either at .500 or below for much of the time, but Henning has seen a resurgence in recent years. 

In fact, he was at the helm as Henning advanced to its only state basketball tournament in school history in 2020. The Hornets defeated Fillmore Central by a score of 69-56 in the opening round of the state tournament, their only state tournament game in school history. 

Just mere hours after that all-time high, came one of the toughest moments Hepola had to endure as head coach, when he broke the news to the team that the state basketball tournament was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“You go from the high of winning a game at the state tournament to telling the kids that their season was done was tough,” said Hepola of telling the 2020 team their season had been canceled after a morning shoot around at the state tournament. 

That winning tradition continues this year as the Hornets have won 21 straight games and are ranked fifth in the state. Since the start of the 2018-19 season, Hepola has won 105 games. 

But as he has said numerous times over the years, coaching isn’t just about winning and losing, it is about helping high school students grow both on and off the court—something Hepola continues to pride himself on today.