>Finish year with 23-5 record, trip to Maryland Class 1A finals
Cumberland Times-News The Cumberland Times-News Sat Apr 30, 2011, 11:41 PM EDT
ACCIDENT — Fifty games, 42 wins, one state runner-up, one conference championship and now a second Times-News Girls Basketball Area Championship. If someone would have told Northern High School Head Coach Steve Fratz two years ago that he would have done all of those things in just two seasons he may not have believed you.
But he wouldn’t have called you crazy.
Fratz saw the foundation for all of this success back when his seniors from this past season were in middle school.
“When the girls were in 6th grade we won the Tri-County 7th grade championship, and won again when they were in 8th grade,” Fratz said.
“(Assistant Coach) Pete (Brosnihan) and I knew we had a special trio at that time, however, a lot of stuff could happen over the course of their high school careers.”
A lot of stuff did happen during their careers — mostly good. Their high school careers will also end on a high note as Northern was unanimously selected as the Cumberland Times-News Area champion by the four reporters of the Times-News Sports Department.
It’s not uncharted territory for the Huskies as they shared the spotlight last season with Allegany. This season Northern ended the Campers season with a 72-57 win in the Maryland 1A West Region Semifinals, giving the Huskies a 2-1 record in the three games the schools played.
The Campers, after two years as outright Area champs and a year sharing the title with Northern, finished second in the final poll. Frankfort pulled in third place, while Southern edged Mountain Ridge for fourth.
This season saw Northern get off to a rougher start than they hoped after it was looking at a 1-1 record following a loss to Keyser. It would be one of only two losses to local teams the Huskies would experience.
Aside from a 65-46 loss to Allegany during the teams’ first meeting, the only trouble that Northern would run into until the finals was in the form of University High School from Morgantown.
That trouble, according to Fratz, was a planned test for his team.
“The preparation for this year started last season when we dropped Union from our schedule and added road trips to Winters Mill and Musselman.
“We needed to face tougher competition to make us battle tested,” he said. “This season we dropped Salisbury for perennial powerhouse University just to let the girls see what it will take to compete down the road. We even changed our Holiday Tournament to South Hagerstown and stayed overnight so we could simulate how to prepare playing on consecutive nights.”
While making the schedule rougher, Fratz took a much softer approach with his players than he may have last season.
“I became more accepting of mistakes and miscues,” he said. “It is part of the game and instead of being upset and frustrated, even though it is tough at times, I tried to figure out how not to make the same mistake twice and to use it as teaching moments.”
Fratz also went with a more hands off approach in his teaching.
“I put more responsibility on the players for them to execute our offense and communicate to each other with defensive recognition, which in return, limited me ‘barking’ orders from the sideline. I had the luxury of having the best point guard in the area as she initiated the offense and every girl knew their responsibility and what was expected of them.”
Fratz’s daughter Kaitlynn, a senior, was the engine that ran his machine these past two seasons.
An incredible scorer, Kaitlynn not only was in a class of her own when it came to her scoring average this past season, but has scored more points than any other player, male or female, in the history of Garrett County basketball.
It would have been hard enough to deal with Northern if all teams had to do was deal with Kaitlynn, but the Huskies could throw another marksman at the opposition in Terra McKenzie. Despite missing her sophomore season because of a knee injury, McKenzie has given the Huskies two straight selections to the Appalachian Mountain Athletic Conference team.
Coach Fratz, whose only other senior player was Morgan Brosnihan, knew that it would be his seniors that would need to buy into his changes in order for the rest of the team to follow.
“After last year’s emotional defeat to Southern in the playoffs, I prepared differently whether it was practice or game strategies,” he said. “I still had confidence in our coaching philosophies, but more importantly I had confidence in our senior leaders. All three of the seniors bought into the idea that they cannot do the same old, same old to get where they dreamt about for the last five seasons.”
The dream started when Coach Fratz took his three seniors, then 8th graders, to watch Southern’s girls in the Maryland 1A Championship game.
It ended with an 80-62 loss to Dunbar in the state finals in this year’s 1A championship.
“We may have lost, but my favorite memory as a coach is the feeling I had watching the girls take the floor at the state championship,” Fratz said. “It gave me goose bumps thinking of how far we came and how we were living the dream.”
It was a dream the Huskies shared with the community that so rabidly supported them.
“I really believe the younger kids, including elementary age girls, got caught up in this special season. This team was like rock stars as young girls got giddy just to come up to talk to them. Entire elementary classes sent individual well wishes when we were headed to states, and youth players were ecstatic when they got one of the senior’s number on their team jersey.”
The excitement this season created may be what people remember of it years from now, but Fratz also hopes the girls are remembered for how they played as well as what they accomplished.
“We have been labeled overachievers. That may be, but I feel that with the work ethic that these girls had that anything was possible. The legacy that will be left behind will be that they played with heart, they played with passion and they never gave up.”
Chris Appel is a reporter for the Cumberland Times-News. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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