Russell Larson scouts the upcoming opponent at the 2012 state tournament PHOTO: JON SPELTZ/SGH
Russell Larson scouts the upcoming opponent at the 2012 state tournament PHOTO: JON SPELTZ/SGH

On May 12, Spring Grove girls basketball coach Russell Larson submitted his letter of resignation.

"We had a pretty good run," he said a few days later. That's putting it mildly.

During his nine years at the helm (the second-longest tenure in program history), Larson (174-74) took the Lions' basketball program to new heights. The team won 86 straight conference games from 2010 through 2014, earned their first-ever state tourney berth (2012), and more. Larson retires after winning five straight conference titles (2010-2014).

"I really enjoyed my time coaching at Spring Grove," he added. "I had great support from the school board and the staff, and (athletic director) Shelly (Anderson). Heath Olson was a great assistant and the kids really bought into the team aspect and gave everything they had when they played."

"I'm going to miss it when the season rolls around."

Larson said that he needed to be able to devote more time to family and work.

"It's never easy, stepping away," he added, "but I think of it as that time. We've got a fair amount of experienced kids coming back, so I thought it would be an easier adjustment for the group.

How do you win 86 straight conference games? Larson said his philosophy was simple:

"We were determined to play pretty good defense and not turn the ball over on offense," he noted. "We never really spent a lot of time drawing up plays. What we wanted was to make our opponents work for everything they got. All of our kids really bought into that. Just make them earn it. Sometimes the other team will make a good shot. You just tip your hat to them and go on...."

The Lions' 2012 run in the state tournament brought back sharp memories, but Larson said that other talented SG squads came within the drop of a shot from moving on in post season play. Regardless, the team that took fourth place at state was something special.

"No matter what happened, they didn't hang their heads and quit," he said. "Those kids certainly played with heart and guts."

Spring Grove Public Schools Superintendent Rachel Udstuen said, "Athletic director Anderson and I received coach Larson's letter of resignation on Monday. We have a great appreciation for the program that Russell built with our girls' basketball team. We are grateful for his many years of service to our district and will miss his presence in our gym."

Larson leaves with the second-most wins and holds the highest winning percentage of any coach in Spring Grove girls basketball (.702). His five conference titles are also tops in the record books. In addition, Larson won four sub-section championships. His team's 28-2 record in 2011 is the best single-season winning percentage in program history (.933).