BORN: Dec. 28, 1948 (Ellsworth)
GRADUATED: Holyrood High School, 1967; Sterling College, 1971; Wichita State University, M.A., 1974
Kansas is known as the “Cradle of Basketball Coaches.”
With the likes of Adolph Rupp, Dean Smith, Eddie Sutton and Ralph Miller, all being born and raised in Kansas, that reputation comes naturally.
Today, another name is added to that prestigious list and his accomplishments on the sidelines in his more than 30 years of coaching are some of the best credentials in the nation.
A native of Holyrood, Kansas, Lonnie Kruse’s affiliation with the school he would become synonymous with, Sterling College, spans portions of six decades when Kruse signed with the Warriors out of high school to play basketball and run track in 1967. When he graduated from the school four years later, Kruse held the all-time school record for points with 1,540.
Following graduation, Kruse began his coaching journey at the high school level where he spent a number of years until he received a phone call from his alma mater Sterling College in 1981 with a job offer to coach the women’s basketball team. Kruse jumped at the opportunity.
Kruse’s tenure at the helm of the Lady Warriors didn’t start out quite like he probably imagined. In 2013, Kruse noted that during his first home game, the Warriors lost by 35 points and he wondered out loud to his wife if he had made a mistake by taking the Sterling job. But, through his talent as a coach and the ability of his players, Kruse weathered the storm of that first season and guided the Warriors to a record of 8-10.
His first season at Sterling would be the last losing record the women’s basketball team experienced for the next 30 years.
Over the next decade, the program continued to gradually improve under Kruse’s leadership. As the win totals increased, so did expectations. In 1993, Sterling College made the school’s first appearance in the NAIA National Tournament under Kruse which would become a regular occurrence for the program over the next twenty plus seasons.
Sterling made 16 trips to the NAIA National Tournament under Kruse, including streaks of four straight years from 1995 to 1998, five straight years from 2001 to 2005, and six straight years from 2007 to 2012. As of 2015, Sterling’s 16 tournament appearances stood third in NAIA women’s history for total tournament appearances, all of which occurred under Lonnie Kruse. The Warriors experienced success on the biggest stage as well, as 10 of the 16 tournament appearances resulted in Sweet 16 berths. Kruse’s teams also made two trips to the Elite Eight and one Final Four appearance in 2001.
As impressive as the Warriors’ statistics on the national level might be, they pale in comparison to the dominance of Sterling College women’s basketball in the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference under Kruse. The Warriors averaged a regular season KCAC championship nearly every two seasons under Kruse. His 12 conference titles illustrate the dominance of Sterling College under Kruse’s watch.
If you ask Coach Kruse, he would tell you he is probably most proud of the women he coached and the lives he touched. Once again, the numbers are staggering. During his career, he coached 18 players to NAIA All-America honors and an astounding 121 All-KCAC honor athletes. Kruse’s athletes weren’t just performing on the hardwood either, they were getting it done in the classroom as evidenced by the 42 athletes who earned Daktronics Scholar Athlete Awards under Kruse.
In December 2007, Kruse became the state’s all-time wins leader in collegiate women’s basketball history with 561 wins surpassing 2006 Kansas Sports Hall of Fame Inductee Marian Washington.
But Kruse wasn’t done building his legacy. By the time he retired following the 2013 season, Kruse’s career record stood at 706-244, second most among active coaches in the entire NAIA upon his retirement, for a career win percentage of 74.3 percent.
For his accomplishments, Kruse has been honored by various organizations including having the basketball court at Sterling College named the “Lonnie Kruse Court” in his honor in 2013 and being recognized by the KCAC as the namesake of the Lonnie Kruse Coach of the Year Award in 2014, a league coaching award he won twelve times during his career. Kruse was also inducted to the Sterling College Athletic Hall of Fame in 1994.
Indeed, Kansas is the “Cradle of Basketball Coaches” and Sterling’s Lonnie Kruse is yet another legendary example.