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A PASSION for Basketball

(Randy Stukenberg – For the Northwest Herald)
Huntley girls basketball coach Steve Raethz shouts instructions to his team Thursday during the Class 4A Rockford East Sectional championship game against Streamwood. Huntley will face Rolling Meadows on Friday in the state semifinals at Redbird Arena in Normal.

To find the foundation of Steve Raethz’s dedication and love of basketball, all it takes is a 40-minute drive from Huntley to a gymnasium he called home 20 years ago.

There, at Hoffman Estates High School, Raethz’s passion was on display for four years before continuing his basketball at St. Nortbert College in De Pere, Wis., where he was a three-year starter and two-year captain. Motivated and eager to stick with the game and educate on and off the basketball court, Raethz transitioned from player to coach – a journey that brought him to Huntley.

“I absolutely love coming to practice every day and working with our players, working with our team and doing whatever it takes to help us get better,” Raethz said. “That’s the preparation aspect of things. I love the competitive aspect of the game and seeing the results of our hard work when we get into games.”

Fourteen years later, Raethz has led the Huntley girls basketball program to its first state semifinal appearance. Raethz and the Red Raiders have weathered some tough moments during his tenure, including a 2-23 record his first

season as varsity head coach in 2000. But it’s undeniable the Red Raiders, winners of five straight games, have been inspired and focused during their playoff run, and many Huntley players credited Raethz for their success.

Few understand Raethz in basketball and life as well as Huntley varsity boys basketball coach Marty Manning. Manning, a sophomore when Raethz was a senior at Hoffman Estates, saw an intensity and devotion within Raethz he still sees today whenever his friend roams the sideline. However, Raethz’s will and preparation to win, Manning said, is what sets him apart, a dedication dating to his high school days.

“We were probably the two biggest gym rats in Hoffman Estates high school history,” Manning said. “We were always shooting or playing one-on-one against each other in the summers. We never played on the same [high school] team, but during summer camps we’d always stay after and shoot, work on our ball handling.”

The Red Raiders’ 26 wins this season are a program best, but Raethz, who owns a 219-183 record at Huntley, deflected all the credit to his players.

“I never would have saw him as a girls basketball coach,” Manning said. “I think he just found a great little niche when he got to Huntley, and that girls job was open, and he took it and ran with it.”

The Hoffman Estates-Huntley coaching connection runs deeper than the bond between Raethz and Manning. Their varsity coach at Hoffman Estates, Bill Wandro, is an assistant on Manning’s staff at Huntley. Wandro, 57, retired two years ago but agreed to join Manning. It has afforded Wandro an opportunity to watch Raethz’s work up close. He was in the stands Monday at Dundee-Crown during Huntley’s 47-43 Supersectional win against Wheaton Warrenville South and walked away impressed.

“He really loves the game, as he did back then, and as a result he puts a lot of hard work into it, which is what he did in high school,” Wandro said. “He always had all the right traits for being a leader, and that’s kind of what a coach does.”

It should surprise no one that Raethz, besides being an excellent shooter who knocked down nearly every shot at the elbow on the top of the key, loved to play defense. It’s reflected in his coaching style. Huntley’s defensive effort, particularly in the playoffs, has fueled their success, and it will be called on again when the Red Raiders take the court against Rolling Meadows at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Redbird Arena in Normal.

“He was just the most intense guy, and you can see that in how he coaches too,” Wandro said. “ … He’s a very competitive guy. He wants to win every game. He doesn’t take losing very easily so I know he’s feeling pretty happy right now.”

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