On the Edge of Greatness

I’ve been fortunate as of late to have a couple long-time friends win championships as coaches.  Although just a fan, and a fan from afar at that, it’s hard not to get drawn in to the entire competitive series, and experience the emotion of the ups and downs as the tournaments wind to a conclusion.

First, my high school (Solon, Iowa) and ex-teammate, friend and Solon head varsity coach Brad Randall finished an unbeaten 28-0 season by winning the Iowa 2A boy’s basketball championship.  Along the way, they came back from 15 points down in the second half of the semifinal against two-time defending state champions Western Christian (from Hull, Iowa), and finally won after two overtimes.  My own view of this was through an online score update on the Iowa High School Athletic Association site, and it was a long time between automatic refreshes when the score was tied.  Ultimately, however, they came out on top, and then won the championship the next night rather handily against Pella Christian.  Ironically, of the four semifinalist (the other being Ft. Dodge St. Edmond), Solon was the only public school.  I explained the 1.65 multiplier that is applied to “non-boundaried” schools in Illinois, and Brad indicated there had been talk about implementing a 1.50 muliplier in Iowa.  I’m not sure the population density in Iowa gives schools that much of a “recruiting advantage,” at least in the more rural areas.  How many kids live within 30 miles of Hull, Iowa, compared to the number of kids that live within 30 miles of a Chicago school?  Regardless, Solon is the champion, and Brad also pointed out that he believes it was the first time ever that the four semifinalists were the same two years in a row.  I would think that speaks to the school, community and coaches more than anything else.

 If this state championship wasn’t enough good news, my long time friend Joe Hruska and the Kirkwood Community College (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) women’s basketball team just won their third consecutive National Junior College Athletic Association Division II national title.  Joe assists long-time coach Kim Muhl, and they have won five national titles since the 1996-97 season.  To my knowledge, they trail only Illinois Central College of East Peoria (6 titles) in that category.  Kirkwood was led by All-American guard McKensey Long (Carthage, IL), along with El Sara Greer (Waterloo, IA) and MyKenya Johnson (Des Moines, IA).   Long and Johnson were named to the all-tournament team, and Greer was named the tourney’s outstanding player.

What’s so amazing about the success Kirkwood has enjoyed is that they have to reload every year, as they operate in a two-year program.  They will lose eight sophomores again this year, but it’s a good bet they’ll be right back in the hunt next fall when practice opens.  As a Division II member, they can only provide tuition and books, so they are at a recruiting disadvantage against NJCAA Division I schools that can provide “full-ride” scholarships.  Yet they continue to put together a solid team every year.    And that doesn’t happen without knowing how to run their program.

Congrats to both Brad and Joe on your respective championships.

Photo 1:  Solon coach Brad Randall yells instruction to his team.  Credit:  Unknown

Photo 2:  Kirkwood All-American McKensey Long calls a play as time winds down in the national championship game.  Credit:  Jeff Findley

posted 25 March 2009

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