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Graney: Gorman coach caps storybook return to sidelines with title

It wasn’t fun anymore. The joy had been taken from her.

So when Sheryl Krmpotich walked away from high school basketball coaching seven years ago, it just felt right.

Man, so must this.

Krmpotich returned this season as coach of the Bishop Gorman girls team and on Friday night produced one of the school’s greatest wins.

The Gaels beat Centennial 57-53 in the Class 5A state title game at the Thomas &Mack Center.

That’s right. The eight-year run of state championships by the Bulldogs is over.

“It sunk in when the buzzer went off,” Krmpotich said.

And her team celebrated like nobody’s business.

Lots of history

It was Krmpotich’s 501st career win, a run that included leading Bishop Gorman to four state titles from 2006 to 2010. The championship in 2006 ended a Centennial streak of four consecutive state titles.

That’s some history between the programs.

“When you reach a point in your career when the game is no longer fun and you’re just not happy, I had to take a step back,” Krmpotich said of her hiatus from the sidelines.

She went to the other side for a time and became an official. Saw the game from a different perspective. Said she grew as a person, as a coach, as a woman.

She also knew the Gaels in her return just might have something special going this season. She knew when they began running hills and training.

Knew that they just might own something within. Perhaps even the ability to win it all.

It was a tall task considering the final opponent.

Think about what Bishop Gorman accomplished Friday: Centennial had won its eight straight titles. The Bulldogs lost to Democracy Prep earlier this season, their first defeat to a Nevada team since January of 2015.

Their coach, Karen Weitz, has 734 career wins. They’re beyond the standard.

“I have so much respect for Karen and what she has done for basketball in Las Vegas,” Krmpotich said. “She put basketball on the map here.”

Her team just couldn’t shake Bishop Gorman.

The Gaels kept hanging around Friday, kept making big shots to stay within shouting distance, kept refusing to go away. Kept pressuring the Bulldogs into mistakes. And it all paid off.

Bishop Gorman was led by a terrific sophomore guard in Aaliah Spaight and her offering of 23 points and nine rebounds. She would score eight of her team’s final 13 points, the Gaels rallying from a four-point deficit with 2:23 remaining.

Spaight was the best player on the floor. She’s going to make some college coach quite happy in a few years.

“(Krmpotich) is a great coach,” Spaight said. “For her to bring us all this way in her first year back … she trusts us, which means a lot. It just feels amazing. I can’t even describe it.”

It was a definite challenge, being asked to return to a program Krmpotich built and deliver it back to the lofty place it had reached under her. But she accepted it. She didn’t blink. No regrets.

“I’m seven years older and a lot more tired,” she said. “I was in my 40s when I left and am now in my 50s. But I love these kids to death. They worked so hard and gave us everything they had.”

The best part about taking a break from high school coaching?

“The vacations,” she said.

What a win

It was earlier this season after falling to Centennial when Krmpotich gathered her team and wrote the date on a board. She also wrote this word: Revenge.

“We got another chance,” she said. “We’ve always played hard and had grit. You saw that out there. When we do what we do well, we’re really hard to beat.”

She was smiling, having fun, feeling good about the game and her place in it again.

Seven years later, Sheryl Krmpotich came home to the sidelines.

Man, what a story.

Man, what a win.

Ed Graney, a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing, can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on X.

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