Spain Park’s Chris Laatsch repeats as Coach of the Year

Published 7:16 am Friday, March 17, 2023

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By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor

Reflecting on the 2022-2023 basketball season, one aspect stood out more than anything—the level of coaching across Shelby County.

That was no more evident than when narrowing down the nominees for the 2022-2023 Shelby County Coach of the Year award after several put together remarkable efforts to lead their team to success.

However, it was a third consecutive trip to the Final Four that was the ultimate tipping point in favor of Spain Park head coach Chris Laatsch.

Laatsch has been named the Coach of the Year in the county for the second year in a row after earning last year’s title by taking the team back to the Final Four.

Despite losing his top two players from the previous year, he turned Zach Gray and Sam Wright into a dynamic duo that became an unstoppable force down the stretch, while others also bought into their roles to round out a special group.

That was what stuck out to Laatsch most about his team after they lost a heartbreaking game in the Final Four for the third year in a row. His main takeaway was that his players bought into their specific role each year of high school to help the team reach its full potential.

“It’s the journey we talked about all the time,” Laatsch said. “The seasons, not a destination. One team’s going to walk out of there happy and it’s about the journey. These guys stay hungry and passionate no matter what it is each and every day. What makes this hard is just because I love these boys so much. These guys have given me everything they’ve got for four straight years.”

And that’s what continued to standout during the 2022-2023 season.

Not only did Laatsch lead the Jags to the Final Four for the third year in a row, an impressive accomplishment, but he continually does it with the roster on hand and the turnover that comes along with that.

It has led to the fifth-year head coach taking over a 5-22 team the year before he arrived and turning them into a team that has made it to the Elite Eight or better in each of his last four years with three straight trips to the Final Four.

This year, however, it wasn’t an easy or straight-forward decision due to the efforts of so many across the county.

Area rival Oak Mountain continued a strong stretch under former Spain Park assistant and Pelham head coach Joel Floyd. In his first year leading the Eagles, he not only led them to the Sweet 16 following two Final Fours, a state championship and Elite Eight the previous three years, but he led the Eagles to the regular-season area championship over Laatsch and the Jaguars.

It was an impressive run for Floyd and Oak Mountain, but even more impressive when you peel back the layers and realize that the team lost one of the largest and most accomplished senior classes in school history. That was more than enough to earn him strong praise for the award.

The same can be said for another first-year head coach in Lucas McDonald, who took Helena from a losing record to regular-season area champs and area tournament champs.

The postseason was cut short for the Huskies after a heartbreaking sub-regional loss, but the turnaround has set the stage for a bright future with an impressive cast of players returning next season.

Beyond those two, Vincent head coach John Hadder led the Yellow Jackets to another sub-regional appearance and Sweet 16 berth, Chelsea head coach Nick Baumbaugh put together an impressive season with the Hornets in their first year in Class 7A and Pelham head coach Greg Dickinson got the Panthers back to the Sweet 16.

Laatsch, however, got his team hot at the right time, which ultimately became the deciding factor in earning this year’s honor. The Jaguars played well under pressure, won an exciting area tournament and then went on to win thrillers in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight before falling 61-58 to Central-Phenix City.

The roster will take a hit with the losses of Gray and Wright going into next year, but, if the trend continues, Laatsch will have them back in contention.