Zach Malvik has always watched the UW-La Crosse athletic department from a short distance.
As a Holmen native and standout player for the Vikings, then as a player and assistant coach at Winona State University, Malvik has watched as many Eagles programs have risen to or maintained national-championship-contending success over the years.
Now he wants his turn to bring that standard to the men’s basketball program.
Malvik on Wednesday was the first of three finalists to have an on-campus interview for the Eagles coaching vacancy. Kent Dernbach, also a finalist, served as the program’s interim coach this season and will interview on Thursday.
Malvik said during the media session portion of his interview that he believes La Crosse is in a perfect spot to get into championship contention year in and year out.
“Being local, I’m very attracted to this job. I think La Crosse is set up to do something special,” Malvik said in a conference room in Mitchell Hall. “A lot of programs have had success here, and I think there’s a great opportunity for La Crosse basketball to have big-time success here, and it’s something I want to be a part of.”
After his career ended at Winona State, where he won an NCAA Division II national championship as a junior, Malvik was a graduate assistant at the University of Arkansas. He then played three seasons as a professional in Australia before returning to the Coulee Region as an assistant coach at Saint Mary’s. He joined the Warriors staff in 2014, and acted as the head coach for a stretch in 2016 when coach Todd Eisner missed time with a medical issue.
UW-L hasn’t been the D-III NCAA tournament since 2006, and last won the WIAC championship in 2016. Malvik said he believes his knowledge of what it takes to be a national championship team will help him build that expectation at UW-L.
“It’s going to be a lot of hard work,” Malvik said. “There’s a bunch of talented players coming back, so I think there’s a lot of very good pieces to work with, and we’ll find more right people to add to that.”
Malvik said he’s extensively recruited Minnesota and Wisconsin, so he has the connections necessary to continue drawing talent to La Crosse. However, with the bulk of his coaching experience at the D-II level, Malvik has recruited with the aid of scholarships. UW-L can’t offer athletic scholarships as a D-III institution, but Malvik said he’s ready to make that shift.
“Without scholarships, you’re selling different things,” he said. “You’re selling the fit, the program, the playing time, the campus, the community a little more heavily.
“There’s so much to sell here, I think that’d be a pretty easy transition.”
Getting the men’s program into the top tier of the WIAC — a conference that qualified three teams for the NCAA tournament this season — won’t be an easy task, regardless of who’s hired. But Malvik believes he bring in a bolt of energy to the program.
“The first step is bringing a ton of excitement and enthusiasm,” Malvik said. “This is a great opportunity to be here every day. And then we’re going to work and play really hard, and do the necessary things to improve.”