Lady Irish seniors have parent coaches to thank

Caroline Krueger and Sydney Mains’ parents have coached their daughters for years 

By Bill Brewer and Dan McWilliams

Caroline Krueger and Sydney Mains, the only seniors on a Knoxville Catholic High School girls basketball team that won its second consecutive state championship this month, have their parents to thank for their success.

The gratitude goes beyond the normal parental duties of love, support, discipline, character-building, common-sense tutelage, food, shelter, transportation, and maybe dating advice.

The two girls, who led the Lady Irish to three appearances in the Division II Class-AA state-championship game in four years and placement in the state tournament in each of their four years at KCHS, were coached in basketball by their parents, who apparently got game, too.

Sydney’s father, Travis Mains, is the head coach for the Lady Irish, and her mother, Missey, is an assistant coach for the team.

Caroline’s mother, Mollie Krueger, was Caroline’s middle school basketball coach at St. Joseph School in Knoxville for four years. And her father, Jim Krueger, coached Caroline during her early, formative years in youth league.

That is a lot of parental involvement.

And has it paid off? You bet it has.

Caroline has received a four-year scholarship to play basketball at Milligan University near Johnson City. And Sydney, who was the Division II, Class AA tournament most valuable player in 2023 and 2024, will be playing next year when she joins Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Fla., on scholarship. Sydney also is a Miss Basketball finalist.

The Mains family relocated from Johnson City just prior to the 2020-21 season when the Mainses accepted coaching positions at KCHS. Their daughter was entering KCHS as a freshman.

But the basketball lessons started long before that.

“I was Sydney’s first coach in the Johnson City recreation league. She was 5 years old when that started. I think she played rec league for three years, kindergarten through second grade. We were the Little Dazzlers. It was so much fun. The goals were 8 feet, and we would beat teams pretty bad. Sydney would get a rebound and then pass the ball to a teammate who would shoot. By third grade she was playing travel ball. I stepped away at that point until eighth grade, when I helped with her travel program that year. After that summer, I was coaching her full time at Catholic,” Mrs. Mains said.

During that time, she had to learn the coach/mom balance.

The Knoxville Catholic High School cheerleaders and an equally enthusiastic group of students supported the Lady Irish at the state-championship game. (Photo Bill Brewer)

“Parenting a teenager can be difficult, so adding coaching to the mix can be challenging at times. Being a mom is the most important role that I have in this world, so making sure she knows the difference between me coaching her and me being mom is important to me. We maintain a five-minute rule after games and practices. The five-minute rule means that we have five minutes to talk about a game or practice after it ends. After that, we do not talk about what may have happened at practice or in a game,” Mrs. Mains said. “Enforcing that rule makes long car rides a little easier on us all. Over time it has become much easier to not talk about basketball stuff at home. People probably think that we make her watch film with us and talk basketball all the time at home, but we don’t. She watches film in her room, and we rarely discuss it outside practice. I also can’t take home frustrations about her cleaning her room to practice.”

“Coaching Sydney has allowed me to spend so much time with her. I have watched and admired her from a distance while she has hung out with friends and teammates. It has been a true joy. She is a great player, but she is honestly an even better person,” she added.

Experience from mothering and coaching Sydney will serve Mrs. Mains well in the near future. The Mains’ youngest daughter, London, has basketball ambitions, too.

“London is Sydney’s only sibling. There is a nine-year age difference between the two. London loves to be with the team. She wants to be in the locker room, on the bench, sometimes she even takes video of the games for us,” Mrs. Mains said. “The only difficult thing about that dynamic is trying to help London to understand the moments when she needs to give her big sister(s) their space. During the state-championship game, she sat on the bench and held up signs with the defensive calls for the players on the court to see. She loved it. She is starting her own travel-ball journey this year. Travis is going to be coaching her. I am going to spend a summer or two just cheering her on from the stands.”

Mrs. Krueger fondly recalls exposing her then-little girl to basketball, not even dreaming that her daughter would one day help lead the team she once played for to its first state titles.

“I started coaching her in the fifth grade. I coached her fifth grade through eighth grade,” Mrs. Krueger said. “My husband coached her when she was 5, and she was playing on a little junior pro team. She and Tinsley Walker (KCHS Lady Irish junior) were on the junior pro team together. Their dads, Tyler Walker and Jim Krueger, coached that team. We’ve been coaching her for a while.”

Mrs. Krueger remembers being the head coach for the girls basketball team at St. Joseph when Caroline was entering middle school.

“She survived having her mother as a coach. I coached her for four years, and then she moved on to Knoxville Catholic High School. That was Travis’ first year (2020-21). That’s when COVID hit, and they couldn’t even do anything the summer before her freshman year, not even summer camp. That set her back a little bit. Then she had a back injury the beginning of her freshman year, and she fought through that. She has really worked hard,” Mrs. Krueger said.

Caroline said winning was not foreign to her when she entered Knoxville Catholic High School. She indicated that she expected to work hard to make winning happen. She credits her mother for instilling in her those traits.

“I played at St. Joseph School. My mom was my coach in middle school. She was a good coach. She prepared me pretty well for Catholic. We had our disagreements from time to time, but I think I was pretty well prepared going into it,” Caroline said. “We won the championship my sixth- or seventh-grade year. But that really doesn’t compare to the state championship, that’s for sure.”

Caroline noted that going into their senior year, she and Sydney wanted to build on the confidence they had earned from their previous appearances in the state tournament.

She recalls that the team was confident in its ability to win in the 2023 state final against Ensworth despite being behind early in the game and going against one of the best players in the country.

“Last year, we started out down 10 points. But I just had this feeling. I was calm and collected. I just had this feeling that we were going to win. And I came in with that same feeling today (March 2). You can just feel it,” she said, explaining the team’s composure against a tough opponent.

Caroline is ready to take on the next challenge that basketball has to offer.

“Now, I’m going to play at Milligan. I’m super excited. They have a really good program. I’m just really excited that I get to keep playing for four years on scholarship,” she said.

As a former Lady Irish player, Mrs. Krueger knows what goes into playing winning basketball. She credits the Mainses and assistant coach Carolyn Williamson for instilling in the team a winning attitude, toughness, and conditioning in addition to excellent coaching.

“One of the things you don’t know about this team is last year after they won the state championship, that Monday morning they were in the gym before school shooting. That wasn’t because Coach Mains said to. That was because they wanted to. That speaks highly of their team and what they are about. They play for each other, and you could really see that on the court. It wasn’t selfish ball out there. It’s very team oriented. They would rather pass up the shot than take it themselves if a teammate is open,” Mrs. Krueger said.

That shoot-around scene occurred on the very first school day after the Lady Irish’s historic win, the first girls basketball state championship in school history.

The road to back-to-back state championships may have appeared to be business as usual for Mr. Mains and his team. But if you ask Caroline and Sydney, the road was difficult.

Mrs. Krueger noted how Caroline battled through the COVID interruption and a back injury.

In April 2022, Sydney suffered a knee injury during an offseason basketball tournament that required ACL surgery. Eleven months later, she would help lead the Lady Irish team to the school’s first state championship as she earned most valuable player honors.

Both girls learned to battle through setbacks. Perseverance and desire are among the many coaching lessons handed down from the Mainses and the Kruegers.

As a result, the Lady Irish defeated archrival Knoxville Webb 53-39 on March 2 at Hooper-Eblen Center on the campus of Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville.

The team concluded the season with a 27-5 record, and Sydney was the tournament most valuable player for the second consecutive year. And it was the fourth time KCHS defeated Webb during the 2023-24 season.

The Lady Irish won the school’s first state championship on March 4. 2023, when they defeated Ens-worth 64-59 at Tennessee Tech. They ended the season with a 21-12 record. Sydney was the tournament most valuable player in that game, too.

The Lady Irish made it to the state-championship game in 2021 and lost to Hutchison 41-34 at Tennessee Tech. The team finished that season with a 15-17 record.

For the Kruegers, Caroline’s accomplishments are a continuation of a family legacy started some 70 years ago.

Mrs. Krueger’s father, Herb “Red” Kidd, played basketball for the KCHS Fighting Irish in the 1940s and served as an assistant coach for the girls and boys teams in the 1950s.

She fondly remembers her father coaching her and her sisters at the family home in Fountain City when they were young.

She knows her father and mother, Elizabeth “Lib,” would have relished seeing their granddaughter shine on the biggest stage in Tennessee in high school basketball.

“I’m missing him today. He would have loved this, just the legacy of being a coach at Knoxville Catholic. He played at Knoxville Catholic. There are pictures of him at Knoxville Catholic where he is a coach in one and a player in the other. Right before he started coaching, he was a player,” Mrs. Krueger recalled following the state-championship game. “He coached me and my sisters on our little league teams. He liked to be behind the scenes. He was the one coaching us in the driveway.”

Mrs. Krueger’s older sisters also played for the Lady Irish.

“We were figuring the other night, it’s been about 70 years that my family has been involved with Irish basketball, with my dad playing and coaching. So, this is very special for the first time to have back-to-back state championships for the girls,” she said.

And if you thought the Kidd-Krueger legacy at Knoxville Catholic High School had come to an end, you are mistaken.

“We’ll have a freshman here at Knoxville Catholic next school year. I don’t know if she’s going to go volleyball or basketball. We’ll see,” Mrs. Krueger said.

Kayla Krueger has followed in her mother’s and sister’s and aunts’ footsteps at St. Joseph, where she is in eighth grade this school year.

“I’ve been her coach in basketball. I haven’t coached her in volleyball. I’ve left that to someone else. It will be fun to see what she decides to do,” Mrs. Krueger said.

Comments 1

  1. What a great story! I remember Mrs. Krueger’s dad Mr. Kidd and Mr. John Mabry coaching me at St. Joseph School in the 70’s. We were pretty good back then for a middle school team. I played for KCHS for four years graduating in 1981. We were mediocre then. I’m so proud of the girls now and their championships. Go Irish!

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