Blue Valley Northwest High School boys' basketball coach Ed Fritz and St. Thomas Aquinas girls' coach Rick Hetzel were already linked in a few ways.
By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star
Both ply their trade in the East Kansas League.
Both also guided their teams to Kansas state championships with Fritz’s Huskies compiling a 25-0 record en route to the Class 6A boys' championship and Hetzel’s Saints finishing 24-1 and capped with a Class 5A girls' crown.
Last Thursday during the All-Star Challenge Awards Show at Shawnee Mission South by the Greater Kansas City Basketball Coaches Association, Fritz and Hetzel also were honored by their peers as winners of the Eddie Ryan Award as the top high school coaches in metropolitan Kansas City.
Hetzel won the girls' award for a record fourth time since the award’s inception in 1995. He won previously in 2001, 2004 and 2011.
“That’s something you think about more after you retire, but it’s fun, though,” Hetzel said.
Fun was also how he described the season for Aquinas, whose only loss came against Missouri Class 5 power Blue Springs in the semifinals at the KA-MO Classic at Blue Valley North..
“This team was a lot of fun,” Hetzel said. “The other teams that won state were, too, but this group really came together defensively and really bought into it.”
With only two seniors on the Saints’ roster, there’s already chatter that Hetzel and company are the favorites in Class 5A for the 2013-14 season.
“Everybody keeps telling me that, but we won those last three games by a combined three points if you don’t include the overtimes,” Hetzel said. “None of it was easy.”
On the other hand, Fritz’s squad, which has reached the boys' state championship game in four straight season, made most things look easy during the school's title run.
Going unbeaten also culminated in Fritz’s first Eddie Ryan Award.
“It’s great,” Fritz said. “I had a little bit to do with starting this organization, so this is a very dear organization to my heart. It’s a great award and a great night.”
Although it was Fritz’s first Eddie Ryan Award, his wife, Blue Valley North coach Ann Fritz, has won it three times in 1997, 2000 and 2005.
“Well, but I have the most recent one, and I don’t think she’s ever had an undefeated season either,” Fritz said.
DiRenna finalists react
Ottawa senior Semi Ojeleye, who has signed with Duke University, and Blue Springs senior Lizzy Wendell won the DiRenna Awards as the top boys' and girls' players, respectively in metropolitan Kansas City, but simply being nominated was honor enough for several other players from Johnson County.
“It’s a thrill to be amongst all these great players again,” said Olathe Northwest senior Kelsey Brooks, who also was a DiRenna finalist as a junior. “I’m not disappointed at all. Lizzy is a great player. We’re all great players, so it could have gone to any of us, but she deserved it.”
St. Thomas Aquinas junior Tia Weledji echoed those sentiments.
Now, despite being the only DiRenna finalist set to return next season, Weledji said winning the award won’t be her focus as a senior.
“We have a lot of girls coming back, and we’re going to try to make our mark again,” Weledji said. “Hopefully, we will work hard again over the summer and can come back and get another state championship.”
That’s the goal again for Blue Valley Northwest junior Clay Custer, who has led the Huskies to a 71-4 record the last three seasons and already is considered a front-runner to win next season’s DiRenna Award.
As Ojeleye’s teammate the last two summers, Custer wasn’t disappointed to see his pal win the DiRenna Award.
“I’m not disappointed that Semi won,” Custer said. “Obviously, I’ve gotten to know him, playing the last two summers together. He’s an unbelievable kid first of all, a joy to be around all the time and as far as basketball, he’s incredible. He can do everything on the floor, and it’s impossible to defend him.”
Fellow DiRenna finalist, Shawnee Mission East senior Zach Schneider, was similarly swayed by Ojeleye’s monster numbers – 38.1 points and 9.5 rebounds – for the undefeated Class 4A champion Cyclones.
“I’m at a loss for words at what he did this season,” Schneider said of Ojeleye.
After much deliberation, Schneider, who was the Sunflower League player of the year and averaged 15 points and eight rebounds for the Lancers, has decided to continue his career in college.
“The season didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but the week after when I looked back on it, I was able to really appreciate the last four years,” said Schneider, who helped SM East to a fourth-place finish at state and a school-record 21 wins.
To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him attwitter.com/todpalmer.