The Huntley girls basketball team’s success this season can be traced back to summer.
When the Red Raiders’ summer league and camps kicked off, coach Steve Raethz made clear the preparation and pursuit of the program’s first conference title began at that moment. The Red Raiders bought in.
Despite losing key contributors from last year’s Class 4A fourth-place team, Raethz had his team ready for opponents’ best efforts on a nightly basis. That focus and preparation resulted in a school-best 27 wins and a program first: a Fox Valley Conference Valley Division title. The Red Raiders went undefeated in division play and continued their stellar play en route to a sixth regional title in eight seasons and a sectional final appearance.
For leading the Red Raiders to a standout season featuring plenty of program firsts, Huntley’s Raethz is the Northwest Herald’s Girls Basketball Coach of the Year, as chosen by the sports staff with input from local coaches.
“I think he did an outstanding job,” senior forward Sam Andrews said of Raethz. “He puts all his effort into what he does and he enjoys doing it. He cares so much about the players and what’s best for us and the team.”
Raethz, in his 15th season at Huntley, wanted to make sure the Red Raiders used last season’s success as a building block for this year and the future of the program.
“As a team, we needed to take a step back and hit the reset button and create a whole new dynamic and set of goals for this year,” Raethz said.
Although Raethz had a nice perk of having both Sam Andrews and Ali Andrews back this season, with them combining to score an average of 32 points a game, that didn’t mean he was able to sit back and relax on the sideline. The Red Raiders took on a tough schedule, which included facing three teams that made the state finals this year, and had to be mentally prepared for every team looking to knock them off.
“Steve has always understood how to get kids to play hard,” Cary-Grove coach Rod Saffert said. “He understood that first and foremost. He knows how to get the most out of his players.”
After finishing second in the FVC Valley or Fox Division a combined four times in the previous seven seasons, winning the division outright for their first title was a special moment for the Red Raiders and Raethz.
“Raethz told us we had to take it day by day,” Sam Andrews said of pursuing the FVC Valley title. “He has it minute by minute what to do. It’s very structured. He gave us a lot of encouragement.”
As teams searched for ways to slow down Huntley, especially the Andrews sisters, Raethz faced the challenge of finding ways to put his team in position to succeed even when facing unique defenses, such as the triangle-and-2 or box-and-1. Raethz said this season keeps Huntley on the track toward success.
“As a coach, I love going to practice every day with the kids, going through the grind and the preparation of what we needed to put ourselves in position to be successful,” Raethz said. “It was great to see those things come to fruition with all the hard work of our players this year.”