After spending 10 seasons as a highly successful high school basketball coach in Blair County — four at Hollidaysburg, six at Altoona and a combined four District 6 Class AAAA titles — Hetz left for Erie McDowell last year.
He returned for a Friday-Saturday doubleheader against his former teams and left 2-0 for the weekend and 5-0 for the season following a pair of convincing victories.
McDowell’s 53-36 controlling of the Tigers was the dessert after a main course featured a 45-23 win over Altoona in what has to be a modern-day record for fewest points by a Mountain Lion team.
“I was proud of how hard our kids played,” Hetz said Saturday afternoon.
He tried to downplay his return — “every game we play we want to play well,” he said — but the signal out of his camp said otherwise.
“It was a big weekend for us,” junior forward Zack Stano said. “You could tell he wanted to win. He was intense in practice all week.”
Nothing new there. The Trojans displayed Hetz’s typical tenacity on defense and combined that with efficient offense while pretty much putting away both the Mountain Lions and Tigers by halftime.
“The McDowell way is always tough and intense,” Stano said. “He’s bringing that out even more.”
Hetz’s style is not always popular with players and fans, but it works. He didn’t want to get in a conversation on how much he was appreciated here, instead accepting a probable reality.
“A lot of times, coaching works like this: People tend to appreciate you more when you’re not coaching, no matter who it may be,” he said.
As a guest, Hetz got the red-carpet treatment. His team practiced Saturday morning at the Summit Tennis & Athletic Club, and Hollidaysburg wore its road jerseys so McDowell didn’t have to wash its after Friday’s game.
“We appreciated Kraig,” Hollidaysburg coach Dean Rossi, who hired Hetz out of United in 1997. “I think he did a great job here, and I don’t think we’ve missed a beat with Mick [Pentoney].”
Blair County shaped Hetz. He found professional success and personal fulfillment. He met his wife, Jenn, here and the couple have three children — all born in Altoona. He was grateful to see so many friends, including former players and assistant coaches.
“There are a lot of great people here,” he said. “Seasons come and go, but having so many kids I coached come by to say hello was special.”
Hetz said he probably would not have left Altoona for any other job. His parents live in Erie, and he considers McDowell his last stop. Though just 41 years old, Hetz has been a head coach 19 seasons. He’s 295-182 overall.
“I’m done moving,” he said. “This is it. It seemed like a good fit, and it’s worked out really well. McDowell is traditionally a great man-to-man, motion-offense program, and that kind of fits in well with the way we coach.”
Which, as he proved once again this weekend, often results in victory.
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or firstname.lastname@example.org. His Web blog, “Once a sports guy,” can also be found at altoonamirror.com.