For the first time in program history, the St. Thomas Aquinas girls basketball team claimed back-to-back state championships.
With junior Sereena Weledji and sophomore Alayna Townsell leading the way, coach Rick Hetzel guided Aquinas to a 23rd consecutive postseason and won the Class 5A title.
That hasn’t been an uncommon result with Hetzel at the helm. Since 2011, his Aquinas teams have won four championships.
For his continued success with the Saints, Hetzel is The Star’s All-Metro girls basketball coach of the year.
This year’s team finished 22-3 and beat long-time postseason contenders Bishop Miege in a non-conference regular season game and Leavenworth in the state tournament on the way to the program’s sixth title.
Hetzel’s strategy has long been to smother opponents defensively, and he remained true to form. Aquinas held its first-round opponent to 20.8 percent shooting from the field and limited Maize, the state runner-up, to 20.5 percent shooting.
“The fun part about coaching high school, every year you have to adapt to the team that you have,” said Hetzel, who’s been head coach at Aquinas for 19 years.
“Defense has always been a priority of ours and always will be. The kids buy into it and know it’s important. Look at what Frank Martin has done defensively with South Carolina and what Oregon did to KU. It just shows you if you want to be a good team you gotta play defense.”
An earlier version of this article stated that Aquinas won the Eastern Kansas League championship. Aquinas and Bishop Miege had the same league record but Miege won the head-to-head tiebreaker.