The strong tradition of Cuba City basketball continues into the present day with 25-year veteran Jeff Pustina, who recorded his 500th career varsity win on Jan. 27 with a SWAL win over Riverdale.
Pustina is not one for accolades and recognition, however on Feb. 2, he was presented with the game ball and honored for his most recent milestone in a very accomplished career.
Pustina addressed the fairly packed gymnasium on a night when dense fog hampered a few from attending the game. He spoke of his accomplishment thanking his former players, assistant coaches, fellow coaches at Cuba City along with the past coaches who blazed the trail for the current state of Cuba City girls basketball excellence. Pustina continued with appreciation for his parents and his family, wife Nancy and daughters Kaitlyn, Kelsey and Chloe.
Pustina is well known throughout the state of Wisconsin and highly regarded among his peers. Pustina's former high school basketball coach and now colleague at River Valley High School, Eric Briehl said Pustina had the knack for coaching early on. "As he went through high school, he took a large interest, an unusual interest in why we did things a certain way," Briehl said. "He always wanted to know the strategy of things and I knew at his young age of 15 or 16 that he had what it would take to become a coach."
Briehl, once a mentor to Pustina, has now become the pupil. "It's been interesting, the fact that I was his high school basketball coach and it's become the reverse that I call him for advice and strategy," Briehl said. "It's been very fulfilling for me as his former coach to see the development of Jeff as a coach and to see him running one of the most successful programs in the state of Wisconsin. He has done the majority of that on his own, although there were some small things that he took from me that has contributed to his success."
The same sentiments were echoed by longtime friend and colleague, Steve Board, varsity girls coach at Richland Center. Board said he is grateful of the relationship with Jeff. "I like playing Cuba City. When we play I know it's going to be a battle and we get some weaknesses exposed. The only stipulation I have when playing Cuba City is to play them early on in the season so I can talk to him about strategy for my team in the remainder of the season. We have been able to retain a person relationship and business relationship and after the game is over, we can chat and bounce ideas off one another."
Board said the accomplishments of Pustina speak volumes of his character. "There are some people who may be envious of the (success)," Board said. "Cuba City is synonymous with basketball championships. It's Jerry Petitgoue with the boys and Jeff Pustina with the girls. When you look at his resume, you see seven state championships and 20 wins a year in less than a 25-year career. I don't know if it (500 wins) makes anymore of a name for Cuba City, but he has put his rubber stamp on winning and doing it the right way. Jeff's character, integrity and work ethic, speaks more volume than any gold or silver ball."
Board said Pustina has never been one to seek the attention and accolades. "He does deflect a lot of the attention off onto his players," Board said. "It takes commitment from the coach, players, parents, school community and administration to succeed and win. Coach has gotten the entire spectrum to buy into what he is trying to accomplish and that accomplishment is pretty incredible. I'm not sure he understands the fact it's coincidental that he's had the kind of sustained success that he has had during his time at Cuba City."
Fellow coaching partner at Cuba City, Jerry Petitgoue said it's amazing he's won 500 in such a short career. "He's only lost 109 games and during his varsity career when you average it out, that's 20 wins and four losses each year," Petitgoue said. "There was a stretch not to many years ago where he was 159-3. There is no doubt about it that he is one of the best girls basketball coaches in the state and he deserves all the accolades he gets."
Briehl agrees with Petitgoue on the expected success at Cuba City. "When you look at Coach Petitigoue and the success of his program prior to Jeff, the expectations for what basketball in Cuba City should be are high. "The pressure, whether from the community or self-imposed by the coach can be stressful," Briehl said. "He has always met challenges and it's a credit to him and the success of his program. It's not something that is handed to you and you continually have to work at it 365 days a year."
Pustina has definitely made a name for Cuba City, but for the entire area of Southwest Wisconsin and the expectations of good athletes. "Most people don't understand the other things he represents for the town," Board said. "To have your kids coached by someone who holds them accountable but to do it with integrity... is something they should be awfully proud of."