March 20, 2019 09:44 PM
(ABC 6 News) – Before the 2018-2019 season, the Spring Grove Lions boys’ basketball team had been on the brink of the state tournament multiple times—on Friday, they finally got over the hump, and it’s because they found their missing piece to the puzzle.
In Southeastern Minnesota boys’ basketball, Tom Vix has a Hall of Fame career. At Rushford-Peterson, over the course of a 33-year career, Vix led the Trojans to 16 state tournament appearances, three state championships (1989, 2006, 2015), and 683 wins (6th in Minnesota boys’ basketball coaching history).
“Coach Vix is the best coach that I know in the state of Minnesota, hands down,” Spring Grove head coach Wade Grinde said.
Best known as a defensive-minded guy, Vix was voted into the Minnesota Coach’s Hall of Fame in 2008.
“He’s always got a different look on things,” Lions senior guard Alex Folz said.
“I’m kind of a zone guy, I have been for a few years,” Vix said. “ Zone preparation, on how to attack it and how to play it (is what I specialize in). I gave them other angles on how to look at certain things – different offensive sets, hot to run practices, how to attack certain things.”
Despite a lofty career which will likely never be topped at Rushford-Peterson, Vix’s time in Rushford came to an end last April, as he stepped down from his head coaching position.
“One door shuts, and another one opens, and this is the opportunity I felt was best.”
After he stepped down, Vix took some time off from “the grind” of coaching—but he wasn’t free for very long after that, as he helped some basketball programs in Wisconsin, and had an offer from a close friend.
“Once Tom decided that things were done in Rushford, I started recruiting him pretty heavily,” Grinde said. “Everything that they did (at Rushford-Peterson), we imitated. But as we imitated, he’d evolve.”
“(Coach Grinde) approached me last fall, and said ‘would you be interested in helping out,’” Vix recalled. “I kind of wanted some time off, but I said I could maybe come in and help one day a week, but he said ‘no, I want you there every day,’.”
Before the 2018-2019 season began, Grinde added Vix, his long-time friend and mentor, to be a volunteer assistant coach, and an advisor, on his staff, joining Al Lochner and Dave Konz on a staff which has been together for 23 years.
“It was pretty awkward the first couple of weeks, but near the end, it’s been pretty good,” Vix joked. “It’s really not hard at all (being an assistant coach), you just have to be a little quieter.”
Besides coaching, Vix is teaching chemistry and physics half-time at Spring Grove high school—but the agreement also came with a caveat.
“I told Wade that my goal was to get to the state tournament,” Vix said. “If I was going to come back, we were going to get after it, and we were going to do it right.”
This postseason, close games have been in the Lions’ favor on the hardwood—Spring Grove survived with a pair of close wins in the Section 1A playoffs, wins which included a three-point win over Houston in the quarterfinals, and a two-point buzzer-beating win over Hayfield in the semifinals—and that’s no coincidence.
“I just think Coach Vix made the difference,” Grinde said. “He has a way of motivating and pushing buttons. He’s great at X’s and O’s, but he knows the right button to push and when to push it. Somewhere down the road, he gave us that advantage. We don’t win those games without Coach Vix.”
On Friday, for the third time in the last four seasons, Spring Grove played for a Section 1A championship—the difference this year, with Vix on the coaching staff, the Lions won their first-ever Section title.
“Wow, it’s happening for the first time ever, it was the greatest experience,” Folz said. “It was all possible because of (Vix) and how much he’s helped us this year.”
“It’s been the best thing that’s ever happened to us,” Grinde added. “It’s been one of the most fun seasons I’ve ever had.”
“I was so happy for Wade and his staff. They’re good friends, and it was kind of always lurking out there,” Vix said. “The joy I saw in that locker room, there’s nothing like the first time getting to the state tournament.”
The Lions know there will be many eyes on them at the Class A state tournament this week—and having a coach on the sidelines who has been in that scene multiple times over his career has been an asset for Spring Grove.
“(Vix) mainly says that we just have to play basketball,” Folz said. “There’s going to be a lot of new experiences, a lot of cameras, a lot of fans, everybody is going to be going crazy. At the end of the day, it’s just basketball, and we have to play and have fun.”
Having fun this season has been the name of the game for Vix and the Lions—and adding the Hall of Fame coach has been the best decision for everybody this winter.
“Those guys took me in, they’ve been great,” Vix said. “They’ve taken me in like I’ve been here my whole life.”
Vix is undecided on whether or not he will return to coach next season, as he’s focused on the weekend ahead for the Lions.
Spring Grove will open the Class A state tournament on Thursday against top-seeded Springfield. The game will be played at Williams Arena on the University of Minnesota campus. Tipoff is scheduled for 11:00 a.m.
Created: March 20, 2019 09:44 PM
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