After losing four starters from a team that reached the Class 4A state tournament last year, Tonganoxie High girls basketball coach Randy Kraft wasn't worried one bit about how his team would fare this season.
While others were skeptical of a team that returned only junior point guard Ali Pistora to the starting lineup, Kraft knew his team could keep the high level of success it had enjoyed the previous few seasons.
He was right.
Tonganoxie was just one win away from a return trip to state, when the Chieftains suffered a one-point loss in a sub-state championship clash with Kansas City Sumner.
The stellar run earned Kraft recognition as the All-Area Girls Basketball Coach of the Year.
"It's a great honor," Kraft said. "It's more for the kids than me, because we only had one senior and they still played as well as they did."
Kraft led his squad to a 21-2 record, including a perfect run through the Kaw Valley League. He knew it would be a gradual process in bringing his squad along, but with eight returning bench players he was confident they would catch on.
"I thought we could be pretty good," Kraft said of his preseason thoughts. "Early on, it was a little rocky. I thought we would have some growing pains, and we did.
"After Christmas, we really started coming together pretty good."
Kraft possesses a coaching philosophy in which he likes to make sure the players have fun. During a practice or games, Kraft often cracks jokes to lighten the situation.
"All of the girls really bonded this season, and I think coach did a great job with that," Pistora said. "He's a pretty funny guy. He did a great job connecting with us."