By Joel Muhs
It’s been a bittersweet last couple of days for the Hutchinson Community College men’s basketball team. The sweet was that the Blue Dragons earned an at-large bid to the NJCAA Tournament, as they enter as the No. 16 seeded team in the 24-team event.
However, the bitter might outweigh the sweet, as long-time Blue Dragon coach Steve Eck announced on Monday that he would be retiring following the conclusion of the 2021 season.
Eck, a Haven native, retires after being the Blue Dragons coach for 12 years, which includes six NJCAA Tournament berths, two Region 6 tournament titles (2013 and 2015), two national championship appearances (2016 and 2017) and the 2017 national championship.
Eck will also leave as the Blue Dragons winningest coach in history, but Eck acknowledged the efforts of everyone involved to create that success.
“I am very humbled to have been the head coach at Hutchinson Community College for the last 12 years,” Eck said. “The administration and all of Blue Dragon Nation has been very supportive. My assistant coaches, former players and managers have been the backbone of this program. Without them, the success at Hutch CC would not have been possible.”
After being hired in 2009, Eck helped lead the Blue Dragons back to the NJCAA tournament in 2013, after they hadn’t seen the tournament in 16 years. HutchCC also visited two NJCAA tournament championship games under Eck in 2016 and 2017, one of which ended with the Blue Dragon’s third title in program history in 2017.
“The Steve Eck era brought so much excitement back into Blue Dragon men’s basketball,” HutchCC Athletic Director Josh Gooch said. “His record and accolades speak for themselves as a national championship and hall of fame coach.”
Although Eck’s retirement announcement is sure to leave a bitter taste in the mouths of many, that taste can turn sweet if Eck can lead his squad to one last tournament run.