St. Mary’s didn’t have to go very far to find its new head boys basketball coach.
BJ Etzold, the Saints’ head girls basketball coach the past two seasons, will take over the boys program.
“Obviously it’s bittersweet,” Etzold said. “I’ve built relationships with the girls over the past two years. I’ve watched them become diligent learners, servant leaders. I’m very proud of the girls and I’m excited to keep watching them and be their No. 1 supporter.”
Etzold led the Saints to a 20-28 mark over the past two seasons, including 14 wins and a berth in the state Class A tournament in 2019-20 – only the second state tournament appearance in more than 20 years for the Saints’ program.
He takes over the boys program from Brent DeKok, who resigned last month as he continues to battle cancer and ongoing health issues.
“The best part is, we’re very close friends,” Etzold said of his predecessor. “It’s been meaningful to be a part of his journey the last few years. I think it was very difficult for him to step away but he’s selfless, he wants to do what’s best for the kids. When he’s feeling well enough, he’ll be able to be a part of things too.”
A Bismarck High School and Jamestown College graduate, Etzold was part of a successful program at the Academy of Holy Angels in Minneapolis, where he was the boys head coach for two seasons. He also coached in the ECI AAU program for four years. In addition, he has been an assistant football coach at St. Mary’s, Minneapolis DeLaSalle, Jamestown, Hazen and BHS.
“With the boys, coaching basketball is just coaching basketball,” Etzold said. “Ultimately, I have three young boys (ages 5, 3 and 4 months) and if they love basketball as much as I do, it's exciting that they can be a part of the program and maybe I’ll get to coach them at some time.”
The St. Mary’s boys team is coming off a 9-14 season in which the Saints went 8-12 in the West Region, finishing in seventh place during the regular season. St. Mary’s fell 67-61 to No. 2 seed Jamestown in the opening round of the West Region tournament before a 74-51 loss to Century in the consolation round.
“We bring back a lot of varsity, JV players,” Etzold said. “We’ve got nine or 10 seniors, a good sophomore class. I think from tryouts to practices, it’s going to be very competitive this year, one of the most competitive in a long time.
“We want to build on the skill set they have now, build the team chemistry. I’m excited with what we have. Then it’s building up the youth programs. We want to give opportunities for the kids to be in the gym as much as possible.”
Etzold has learned a lot from his early coaching stops.
“I’ve been fortunate to be an assistant at some good programs,” he said. “Being able to coach in Minneapolis at Holy Angels, you get used to playing against some unbelievable competition. It really forces you to grow as a coach to be competitive. You get to be around some great college coaches in the Twin Cities. It helped me grow as a coach.”
Etzold is also excited to be able to match wits with some of his colleagues in the West Region boys battles as well.
“I’m just excited. A lot of my closest friends are boys coaches in the WDA,” he said. “It’s so competitive, the teams are so well-coached. There are no easy games ever. You have to have your best effort every game.”