88
      Saturday
      94 / 73
      Sunday
      93 / 69
      Monday
      86 / 70

      Getting Phat in Fatima

      (The first part of this story was originally posted Nov. 12, 2012, about the success of the Fatima sports programs in recent years. There's another chapter to add at the end of this story --- the Comets have advanced to the basketball Final Four.)

      Tuesday night, the Fatima Comets dropped a 2-0 soccer decision to Southern Boone in the state sectionals..

      It was tough end to a good season.

      But Southern Boone is good, very good --- the Eagles are now 25-3 and have a great chance to advance to the Final Four.

      This story, however, is not about Southern Boone. It's about the bright blue and gold of Fatima.

      Perhaps Tuesday night's loss put a period and not an exclamation point on Fatima's fall sports season. But this was still a season to remember.

      Call it getting Phat in Fatima.

      Or, if you want, getting Phat in Phatima.

      The sports programs won four of five district titles, but that's just the start of this success story:

      * The boys cross country team finished third in the state, led by the fifth-place finish of Hunter Hennier. He's a freshman --- six of the seven runners will be back next year. The Fatima girls advanced to state and finished ninth --- all seven will return.

      * The soccer team won a district title, as did the softball team, which advanced to the quarterfinals.

      * And this is what you'd call saving the best for last --- the Lady Comets won the school's first state championship in volleyball.

      What a Phall it was.

      "It's been phenomenal," Fatima Athletic Director Jeff Buthod said. "There are probably three keys to our success, in all of our sports.

      "One, we have really great kids who work hard. And obviously, we have some great athletes coming through right now.

      "Two, we've got some great coaches in place who are working with our kids and doing the right things in the offseason and in the summer, and really challenging them to get better.

      "And three, over the last few years, we've really upped our schedules to where we're playing a lot of bigger schools, in all sports. These are teams who are going to make us better when we do come down to our own level."

      It's a great time to be a Comet.

      "The school spirit ... the kids have done a great job of supporting each other the last couple of years." said Buthod, a 1986 graduate of Helias, who's in his third year at Fatima.. "Not just the kids, but the parents, the grandparents ... the support all our teams has gotten has just been great.

      "It's gotten everybody excited. We've probably sold more t-shirts in the last two years than we have the previous 20 years."

      State championship t-shirts are always great sellers. Saturday, the Lady Comets secured the school's first one since 1996 and its fifth overall.

      "I'm ecstatic. I'm glad I could give something back to the school that took a chance on me," third-year coach Mark Bockstruck said.

      Fatima advanced to the Final Four last year, as well, and finished second.

      "Our goal then was to make it to the Final Four and even though we lost, we were still very excited because Fatima had never been there before," said Bockstruck, a 2000 graduate of Hazelwood Central.

      "This year, the big change was that they knew they could do it."

      And did they ever.

      The Lady Comets went a sparkling 35-4-1 and, in a rematch of last year's finals, dusted St. Pius X 25-14, 25-19.

      "The girls were just super excited; I was super excited," Bockstruck said. "People said I jumped six feet off the floor; it was like all the hard work really paid off.

      "There was a little disappointment, too, with the fact that this was the final match for seven seniors. It was a great way to go out, but it was over.

      "They've been together since they were 9, 10, 11 years old and now it's done."

      These seniors should not remain nameless: Brooke Berhorst, JoAnna Muenks, Anna Bonnot, Morgan Bax, Chelsea Skidmore, Jordyn Williams and Brianna Kempker.

      "After we'd won, I looked at all the faces of the players in the media room," Bockstruck said. "It was a complete state of joy, so much emotion that they had trouble handling it. There were tears, there was laughter ... just happiness in what they'd achieved.

      "That's why I coach, knowing I'm helping build some memories that will last a lifetime.

      Great stuff. And so is this: Fatima opened its doors in 1952 and in the next 57 years, advanced to a total of 13 Final Fours.

      In the last two years, the Comets and Lady Comets have been there seven times (it's now eight, see below).

      "We've got banners going up so fast," Buthod said, "I can even get them made before we're putting up more."

      What a nice problem to have.

      It's a great time to be a Comet.

      III

      It certainly is --- and it's only getting better.

      The latest success story is the Fatima basketball team, as the Comets (28-1) have punched their ticket to the Final Four.

      "These guys have a ton of ability, but they're just so passionate when they play," said Fatima coach Ryan Robertson, who played on the Comets' last Final Four team in 1996.

      "To watch their energy on the floor, that's something you can't teach, that's just something that's in these kids. They leave it all out there."

      The fourth-ranked Comets --- who will face unranked St. Pius X (22-6) in the Class 3 semifinals at 1:40 p.m. Thursday at Mizzou Arena --- will carry a gaudy 21-game winning streak to Columbia.

      But it was the one loss --- perhaps more than the 28 wins or that 21-game winning steak --- that helped define this team. It was a 30-point loss back in early January.

      "It was bad; it was just another level of basketball we hadn't seen," Robertson said. "But looking back on it, we're just so thankful and grateful that we scheduled them."

      That team would be Columbia Hickman (24-2) --- the No. 1 team in the state in Class 5.

      "They drilled us, but it's the best thing that could have happened to us," Robertson said. "I think it kind of woke our guys up, about what's it like to be at the next level and to see how good those guys are.

      "No matter what we see on this ride, we've seen the best Missouri has to offer."

      In 6-2 senior Patrick Schneiders, Fatima boasts one of the best players Missouri has to offer.

      "It's quite simple --- he's the best shooter I've ever seen, at any level," Robertson said.

      Coach-speak? No. Listen to this: Prior to the sectional game against Hartville in Rolla on Feb. 27, the Comets had a shoot-around at Fatima. Here's what happened:

      "Pat had made 19 3-pointers in a row and I made everybody stop what they were doing and see if he could make it 20," Robertson said. "Well, he made it 38 in a row before we got on the bus.

      "That's just phenomenal, just an incredible feat."

      No kidding. Try to make 38 straight 3-footers and see how that goes, let alone 38 straight 3-pointers.

      Wow.

      "He's one of these guys who's good at everything," Robertson said of Schneiders, who averages 23 points a game. "He's a phenomenal baseball player, he's great at ping-pong, he can hit a golf ball 300 yards, and I just found out over the weekend that he's a phenomenal Frisbee golf player.

      "He's gifted."

      But you can't get this far with just one gifted player.

      Other key cogs in the Fatima machine include Tanner Gentges (6-3, sr.), "one of the best point guards around," Robertson said; Chad Stegeman (6-7, sr.), "one of the best post players in Central Missouri;" and guards Tom Zeilman (6-foot, jr.) and Nolan Bax (5-8, sr.), "the heart and soul of the team.

      "That's how great teams are made, the role players and the bench guys who sacrifice so much," Robertson said. "That's been the difference, the unselfishness of our team."

      Forgive the Comets if they get a bit greedy this week.

      "These are the guys who are doing all of this," Robertson said. "I'm just humbled and blessed to be along for the ride and to be a part of it.

      "Everybody's excited; they've been dreaming about this since they were little kids. To see all the hard work pay off, finally ... everybody's so happy and it's an experience they'll never forget."