New Prague girls' basketball coach Ron Gunderson has joined the ranks of the state's elite.

Gunderson became only the fourth girls' mentor to reach 600 career victories in a 57-41 victory over Farmington in a Missota Conference matchup on Jan. 15.

"It means there have been a lot of kids over many years that have done a tremendous job," said Gunderson, who started the New Prague program in 1976. "For me, it's a longevity thing. Just stick around long enough and something positive might happen. As a good friend of mine said, 'Even a blind sow finds an occasional ear of corn.'"

New Prague lost its previous two games with the milestone on the line. The Trojans are 11-4 on the season.

"The 600 thing was released before it happened, and I think it added pressure on these kids," Gunderson said. "It's great to get it over with and just play ball. I appreciate all the nice things people are saying and doing, but we need to stay focused on today, not yesterday."

Gunderson has guided the Trojans to seven state tournament appearances, including the Class 3A championship in 2000. They defeated Minneapolis North 64-62 for the title.

"The players on that team had a special cohesiveness that went beyond basketball," Gunderson said. "Winning wasn't just about skill. It was about the relationships and trust factor that these kids had. To see the pure joy that the players experienced was something that all kids should have an opportunity to have."

Other coaches to reach the milestone are Mike Dreier of New London-Spicer, Myron Glass of Rochester Lourdes and Randy Myhre of Barnum. Dreier and Glass still are coaching while Myhre retired after last season. Dreier is the state's all-time winningest coach with 779 victories.

"Time flies when you are having fun, and the years have just flown past," Gunderson said. "I have been very fortunate to have such great kids in a very supportive community. When I hear what some coaches deal with, I just can't believe it. We have a comparatively small community competing against some big programs on a regular basis. For us to be successful the kids have to work hard and work together. The work ethic and dedication these players demonstrate year in and year out is inspiring to me. I'm lucky to be a part of it."

Back on the sidelines

Former Apple Valley football coach Mike Fritze, who retired after the 2012 season, has been named defensive coordinator at Minnesota Crookston. Another former Apple Valley coach, Paul Miller, is the head coach at Crookston. The two have previously worked for each other.

Ron Haggstrom • 612-673-4498