A Lourdes legend

The University of St. Thomas basketball team poses for a group photo following the NCAA Division III men's basketball championship game against Wooster College at the Salem Civic Center in Salem, VA March 19, 2011. The Tommies won 78-54 to take the national title. Head coach Steve Fritz is at center.

SAINT PAUL — The claim that this is the best year ever for Lourdes athletics got a boost last month in an event held hundreds of miles from Rochester.

Steve Fritz, a 1967 Lourdes alum who grew up in Blooming Prairie, guided the University of St. Thomas men's basketball team to the Division III national championship on March 19 when his team claimed a convincing 78-54 victory over Wooster in Salem, Va.

Not bad for a team predicted as "Most Likely to Disappoint" by, huh?

"We did disappoint a lot of teams," quipped Fritz.

Fritz has received thousands of congratulatory messages since wrapping up his 31st season as the Tommies head coach, but a few have been particularly special to him. Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan, who won four Division III titles while coaching at UW-Platteville before jumping to the Big Ten, called to chat and was in attendance when Fritz received the NABC National Coach of the Year trophy in Houston, Texas, during Final Four weekend. Steve Fisher of San Diego State and Scott Davenport of Bellarmine, a Division II school, were also honored.


In addition, a photo shoot was scheduled with John Nienstedt, Archbishop for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. The Minnesota Twins also coordinated two events to honor the accomplishment of Fritz's program. A pair of Tommie players were selected to take part in a pre-game home run hitting contest with TC, the Twins mascot, while the entire 25-man squad was honored prior to a different game last week.

It wasn't until last weekend that Fritz was able to get his team together for a year-end banquet to properly reflect on the experience.

"It's been kind of a whirlwind," said Fritz, who has been head coach since 1980 and athletic director since 1992.

Fritz, like his more modern counterparts at Lourdes, is no stranger to success. As a senior with the Eagles — his first at the school after his mother got a job at the Mayo Clinic — he helped Lourdes to a 26-0 record that included winning the private school state title.

The current Lourdes school year has seen trips to state in boys soccer, football, boys basketball, girls tennis and girls swimming (co-op with John Marshall) — with girls tennis and football bringing home titles.

Upon graduating, Fritz traded one purple uniform for another. He helped the Tommies capture two MIAC championships while finishing his career with 1,944 points and 915 rebounds, which are good for second and third in school history, respectively. Fritz immediately joined the St. Thomas coaching staff and has been a part of 1,198 straight Tommie basketball games — which includes 829 wins — over the past 44 years.

Fritz, who is already a member of the St. Thomas Athletic Hall of Fame, has a career coaching record of 594-246 (.707). That includes a 106-13 (.891) mark over the past four years. He's won 16 conference titles and had just one losing season, while also overseeing the creation of a new $52 million athletic complex that opened last fall.

However, some have begun to speculate about how many more years he has left on the sidelines. Fritz battled health concerns most of the past year — he coached the finals with his left arm in a sling, for example — and it's now unusual for a head coach to also be the athletic director at the collegiate level. He says those are "good questions" and he'll "look at those things" this summer; he said he simply wants to do what's best for the whole St. Thomas athletic department.


Regardless of what his future might hold, the Tommies feel Fritz's status is already secure.

"Coach Fritz is a legend," Tommie junior post Tommy Hannon told the press in Virginia. "To be part of a team that brings him his first national championship is special."

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