Toot proud of players’ work ethic
Winning 17 games and coming within two points of qualifying for state in his first year were great accolades for Baldwin High School boys' basketball coach Eric Toot.
But, those two things aren't what the BHS coach is proud of during his inaugural season at the Bulldog helm.
Toot led the Bulldogs to a 17-6 season in which they finished tied for fourth in the Frontier League. In their final game, Kansas City Piper defeated the Bulldogs 41-39 in the Class 4A sub-state championship contest. It was the effort and attitude of the players that Toot will remember.
"I know we won a lot of games," Toot said. "Seventeen games is quite a few wins and I was very excited about, but what I was most proud of was the tone that was set by our kids. We are going to be a program that plays hard. That started with our seniors from day one in practice. It just carried on.
"At the beginning of the season, I thought they were just excited about basketball and teams usually slow down and seem to get bored," Toot said. "That didn't happen with this team. They played hard every day in practice. They gave great effort throughout the year."
Toot hopes the younger players noticed the way the four seniors led the team this year. The four graduating seniors are Blake Wieden, Sam Scott, Andrew Madl and Caj Kueffer.
"If our younger kids didn't recognize the rewards that you get from effort, then that would be disappointing to me," Toot said. "I know they did, because they also worked hard."
Several sophomores saw varsity minutes late in the season. They were Sam Beecher, Brandon Tommer, Connor Wright and Clad Kueffer. The juniors that contributed to the team were Drew Berg, Dustin Schiller, Jesse Green, Zach Durr and Josh Beaulieu.
Berg said the players took on the attitude of their coach, which led to success this season.
"Our season was really successful," Berg said. "We gave it everything we had. Coach Toot emphasized being focused, committed and intense. We were a reflection of our coach."
When Toot took the job last spring, one of his goals was to not only build a winning team, but a winning program in Baldwin.
He hopes the seniors helped start that for him this year, because the younger players will be moving up next season.
"We had a lot of kids that were pretty even," Toot said. "If you are really going to build a program, you can't have a kid go from junior varsity to starting varsity the very next year without ever having played varsity. For those kids to have an opportunity to compete for starting jobs next year, it was important for me to give them a taste of varsity basketball this year. I thought we were able to do that for the most part."
Baldwin loses the four seniors that combined for an average of 36 points per game. The seniors also brought leadership to the BHS team.
"Our seniors left a big hole for us to fill," Berg said. "The sophomores will help us do that next year. I think we will have a good season next year."
Toot said he is going to miss the seniors, even though there is talent moving up the ranks at BHS. He is also concerned about the league, which will shrink from 13 to eight teams next year.
"I am very excited, not only about next year, but the years to come," Toot said. "I think our seniors this year really set the tone about playing the game the right way and success can happen. We have the talent to continue to be very successful in the next few years. It won't be easy. Our schedule is actually getting tougher and our league's breaking up."
One player that might help the Bulldogs next season is Baldwin Junior High School eighth grader Justin Vander Tuig. The 6-foot-6 Vander Tuig will add some height to a BHS team that loses the 6-4 Scott and 6-2 Madl.
"Justin is going to have an opportunity to help us at the varsity level next year, there is no doubt about that," Toot said. "I know that he is working hard and if he continues to do that, he will have a chance to compete for some minutes. By no means does he have to come in and be a star for us.
"We have some players in front of him that are excited about their opportunity to play varsity basketball next year," Toot said. "We are definitely looking forward to Justin and that entire eighth grade group. That's a good, solid group of players that we have coming up."