St. Thomas Aquinas coach Randy Dreiling is not a man for subtle entrances, and that was apparent from the first moment he met the team’s parents last December.
Despite making it to the state semifinals the year before, the Saints were coming off a 3-7 campaign and he was eager to bring some of the sustained success he enjoyed in 17 years at Hutchinson that led to seven state titles in eight years.
His first move was to upgrade the facilities, and the plan was already rolling by the time he met with parents four days after accepting the job. He also wanted to install a triple-action offense that was highlighted on a short video playing behind him as he took the podium.
Less than a month later, he had his returning players starting a vigorous weight-room routine, and he took a similar approach to changing the players as well.
“It’s definitely a step up in intensity from the past few years, but you learn to live with it,” senior Kyle Bollig said. “It is constructive criticism. He’s not tearing you down. He is making you better.”
For Aquinas, better means a 9-3 record and the program’s third state title game. It will face Bishop Carroll at 1 p.m. Saturday at Pittsburg State University.
It is also clear in the offensive statistics that blew former school records out of the water.
The Saints have nearly 1,500 more rushing yards than any other team in school history, with two players ranked in the top four on the school’s all-time list. James Cosentino, who was injured in the final district game against Pittsburg, ranks first with 1,296 yards in only nine games.
“Most of them bought into it, and those who didn’t aren’t around anymore,” Dreiling said. “That commitment level that they invested got a lot of kids involved and a lot of them have had to step up.”
One of Dreiling’s former assistants, Dustin Delaney, also brought some Hutchinson magic to the Kansas City area.
He has led Shawnee Mission East to the Kansas Class 6A state title game in each of his first two seasons. The Lancers, 12-0, will face Hutchinson at 1 p.m. Saturday at Emporia State University.
“He came in the first day and said we were going to the state championship the first year,” Lancers quarterback Gunnar Englund said. “At the beginning of the year when we heard it we thought, ‘Wow,’ but as the year went on he made us believe we could do it.”
Delaney took over a slightly more-advanced squad that had a 26-15 record in four years under Chip Sherman, but his flexbone offense seems to have helped the Lancers make the turn. They averaged more than 46 points in their first 12 games and captured a share of the Sunflower League title.
“It was a long process at the beginning to establish our mentality and get the kids excited and eager to start something new,” Delaney said. “We are getting the rewards of that now.”