SECTION 1A COACHES OF THE YEAR
Humility is the middle name of two Blooming Prairie High School basketball coaches who were recently honored as Section 1A Coaches of the Year.
John Bruns earned the award in coaching the Awesome Blossom girls to a 21-6 record, and Nate Piller earned the same award, coaching the Awesome Blossom boys to a 25-3 record, including a Section 1A championship and a trip to the state tournament.
Both coaches credited others for being responsible for them earning these awards.
The trip to the state tournament never happened for the Awesome Blossom boys as all tournament action in mid-March was shut down because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
This is how Coach Piller views the Coach of the Year award: "They call it 'coach of the year,' but it goes to the whole coaching staff for this season, and it also goes to coaches of past seasons all the way down through Junior High to BPRA (Blooming Prairie Recreation Association) youth basketball."
"It means these boys have had good coaching for years," Piller professed. "The boys bought in to what they were told along; it reflects the athletes that the team had," Piller added.
Piller praised the work of his assistant coaches, Andrew Hardecopf and Brian Nelson.
"We were blessed to have Coach Nelson come back to the team following his son Anthony’s basketball career at Bethel College," remarked Piller. Anthony, who died in a car crash last year, was an Awesome Blossom basketball player.
Coach Nelson provided a perspective that only he could, Piller said. He’s Blooming Prairie alumni and has coached for years in this community.
"He’s been great," said Piller. "I wish the circumstances that allowed his return were different, but Brian has had more of an influence on our players and coaches than he knows.
"We don’t talk about it much, but our team and community have a hard-earned but very real perspective on things," Coach Piller said.
"Coach Nelson has done a great job being positive with these boys and the guys know he really cares for them and he wants them to do well," Piller says.
"He does a great job building a sense of community in these boys and illustrating their role in the community. Not only that, but years ago, Coach Nelson invested in a “Shooting Gun” for the basketball programs. That was a great investment and has really produced great results for those players who have taken advantage of it."
Coach Piller also has valued the expertise imparted by assistant Hardecopf. "There isn’t anyone short of my wife and kids who I spend more time with," said Piller in speaking about Hardecopf.
"From late May to late March, he’s with me several hours of most days, often seven days a week, month after month. He and his family understand the sacrifices and the standards we share. He and I have had that relationship for five years, so he knows what and how we’re doing things. He’s accountable and he knows how to keep the athletes accountable so that when they’re called on, they can answer the call."
Piller said his team "was blessed" with lots of strengths during the year.
"Our athletes were very athletic and they had a great combination of size, strength and skill," said Piller.
"Of the 10 guys who played the bulk of the time throughout the season, nine of them were 6’1” to 6’5” and all 10 guys were very strong guys for their position. And then when you talk about skills, these guys put up some of the top career marks in BPHS boys basketball history. We set records with 3-point percentages, 2-point percentages, and assists. That reflects some pretty awesome skills."
Coach Piller said the 2019-20 boys team had a special chemistry. Family is the best term to describe how the team players worked hard together.
"We hold each other to high standards," Piller said. Each player did not want to disappoint their fellow team members, comments Piller.
Coach Piller thanked players' parents and the community for their support during the year. District leadership at the administrative and board levels have helped build strong programs, Piller believes.
Piller thanked the BP Ed Foundation and community members who have invested in the weight room to help improve overall athleticism. He also praised teaching staff members (past and present) who have held high standards.
"We are academics first and athletes second," affirmed Piller. "Don't forget our janitors who set up for every game and keep our facilities nice. Also, our team has had great fan support throughout the year and this was noticed by our players."
Looking back on the successful season, Piller said there were many highlights. One, of course, was earning a trip to the state tournament, a life-long goal of so many people, he said.
Another highlight emphasized by Piller was the relationships on the team. "This was a great group of boys," Piller said.
"Whether or not we were participating in basketball, they’re just a fun group of guys to be around. This is a group that communities should be proud of. Over the years, they’ve volunteered hundreds of hours of community service and they represent our community in so many great ways."
Taking a peek into the future, Piller says it all starts over.
The Blossoms lose eight seniors: Jarrett Larson, Isaac Ille, Zach Archer, Karson Vigeland, Parker Vaith, Kaden Thomas, Zach Weber and Gabe Hagen.
Returning will be juniors Boone Carlson, Cole Christianson, Alex Miller, Mitchell Fiebiger, Jacob Naatz, Chris Naatz, Alex Piller, and Luke Larkoski and sophoores Colin Jordison and Drew Kittelson.
"We have to take advantage of every opportunity we get. We have to get better every single day. We have to build all new relationships.
"The only thing different next year from any other year is that we’ve tasted success at a level that hasn’t happened since 1966. We have an idea of what it takes but we’re stripped back to 0-0 with different situations and different personnel."