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A Coaching Genius Is Right In Our Own Back Yard

Jane Ellen Kuenzle has brought a flair and brilliance to the Villa Duchesne basketball program.

From time to time, I like to write about our local coaches. These people dedicate their efforts to bettering the lives of athletes in the area.

From years of experience, I know coaching at the high school level makes all the difference in the world.

The athletes are gaining lifetime experiences from their coaches. They are learning about teamwork, cooperation and dedication. Great coaches make a difference.

Prior to joining Patch, I had never heard of Villa Duchesne’s basketball coach Jane Ellen Kuenzle. That’s all changed.

After almost two seasons of observing, I’ve learned a lot about this Saints coach. Trust me, she’s in the upper echelon of local leaders. When she talks, the team listens.

Villa Duchesne’s talent doesn’t run quite as rich or deep as that of a St. Joseph’s Academy, Incarnate Word Academy, or even Cor Jesu or Ursuline Academy. But it might sometime soon.

This is clearly a program on the rise.

Kuenzle squeezes her talent and gets out every ounce of what they are worth. They might not be St. Louis’ top shooters, but I’ve seen enough games to know they are elite ball handlers.

Kunzle is a strategic genius. She’s way above some of the area’s other tacticians. She ranks alongside ingenues such as Julie Matheny at St. Joe, Dan Rolfes at Incarnate Word Academy and Thad Strobach and Don Burrus of yesteryear.

Recently, facing a much bigger, mightier and quicker Jefferson City squad in their own Queen of Hearts tournament, Kunzle tossed out the playbook and went to a stall game. It was pure coaching brilliance. The maestro had the baton in her hand. The clock management shortened the length of the game, but more importantly, it unnerved their opponents. Once they got their mitts on the ball, the Lady Jays hurried shots like they were all going to be potential buzzer beaters.

At the half, the Saints had forged a 7-point lead over the defending champs of the 32nd annual Villa Queen of Hearts tourney. An upset was brewing.

Players such as Kateleya Frost, Alex Roth, Holly Marx, Hanna Benben and Lauren Nickson whipped the ball around as if they’d done it all their young lives. The Jays didn’t know if they should trap or lay back. If the Saints had a true three-point shooter, they’d have won the game easily. As it was, the Jays employed some hot second-half shooting to overcome the lead and win the game. Holding the ball proves to be a lot less effective coming from behind than when holding a lead.

Asked where she learned the strategy, the coach shrugged it off, claiming it was was one of the oldest tricks in the book, employed often by the Ivy League’s Princeton Tigers to ward off bigger timed opponents.

The Saints are an amazing ball-handling team. They handle the rock like they own the gym. They lack size and inside brute strength and play more like a five-guard offense.

I loved it. The strategy was pure magic. A smart coach was able to assess the strengths and weaknesses of her squad and devise a plan to to nearly win.

After the game, fans were huddled in the vestibule with School President Sister Lucie Nordman. I couldn’t help myself by telling the good sister she had one great coach. I told her she ought to get her coach under a long-term contract. Without hesitation Sr. Nordman said, “We’re not letting her go anywhere else.”

Good decision.

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