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story.lead_photo.caption Eugene coach Craig Engelbrecht looks toward his bench during the second half of the Eagles' Class 2 quarterfinal game against Milan earlier this month at Moberly Area Community College in Moberly. Photo by Greg Jackson / News Tribune.

Craig Engelbrecht came close earlier this month to leading his alma mater, the Eugene Eagles, to their second Final Four appearance.

The Eagles came up just short, but Engelbrecht is choosing to go out on a high note.

After coaching for 36 years, including the past 33 years at Eugene, Engelbrecht announced his retirement from coaching when he submitted his resignation at Eugene's Board of Education meeting March 18.

"I just figured I couldn't go on forever," Engelbrecht said.

Engelbrecht notified his players of his decision the afternoon before the meeting.

"This team this year was the last team I coached in junior high," Engelbrecht said. "I just thought back then that this might be it, having coached them for six years and being a part of their lives.

"When I got to the end of the year, it just seemed like the right thing to do."

Engelbrecht, a 1979 graduate of Eugene High School, began his coaching career at Russellville, where he coached the girls basketball team for three years from 1984-87. He then returned to Eugene, where he began as the JV boys basketball coach, and then took over as head coach in 1990.

He would hold that position for the next 30 seasons.

"When I got the opportunity after my three years at Russellville and the job opened up at Eugene, I thought that was going to be it," Engelbrecht said. " Luckily, I was able to get off to a good start and have some success with JV basketball teams, and we had a Final Four baseball team while I was there before I took over the basketball program."

In his second season as head coach at Eugene, Engelbrecht led the Eagles to their first Final Four appearance. The 1991-92 basketball team finished second in Class 2, losing 85-82 in overtime to Portageville in the state championship game.

"That team was so instrumental in my career," Engelbrecht said. " You think, 'Wow, this is going to be cool. You're going to go to the Final Four a lot.' And then I never went back again. That team was always the measuring stick for all the teams that I've had."

Engelbrecht won eight district championships at Eugene, including his final season in 2019-20. The Eagles finished with a 20-7 record, coming up just short of the Final Four with a 71-65 loss to Milan in the Class 2 quarterfinals earlier this month.

"We played a really tough Show-Me Conference schedule and showed we could really play well against good teams in the area," Engelbrecht said. "That gave us hope going into districts. The guys really buckled down and played just outstanding defense the last two weeks of the season, got hot at district time and played really good basketball."

Eugene shared the Show-Me Conference championship with St. Elizabeth — which finished runner-up in Class 1 — and Fatima.

"That's something a lot of people don't understand, how solid that conference is," Engelbrecht said.

On Wednesday, Engelbrecht was chosen by the media as the Central Region Class 2 boys basketball coach of the year. The region consists of 27 Class 2 basketball teams in Central Missouri.

"You're just appreciative that people think that highly of you," Engelbrecht said. "But it goes back to the kids that represent us, and because they played well, some of those accolades come my way also."

Engelbrecht retired from teaching following the 2016-17 school year, but he decided to continue coaching the boys basketball team. He said he liked to check on stats when he got home from games and post videos of games online, a task that could go late into the night.

Without teaching these past three seasons, Engelbrecht said he enjoyed being able to sleep in the day after games, a luxury he didn't have while he was still teaching.

"It has been a lot easier and a lot more enjoyable coaching these last three years, when you don't have a teaching schedule to work into the mix," he said.

The 2016-17 season was a big one for Engelbrecht. In addition to winning his 500th career game during that season, he was also inducted into the Missouri Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

"It's an honor that's shared by a lot of people," Engelbrecht said. "It's cool to hear from the players that are still around, and managers, people who video games for you, just everybody who has been a part of the program."

Engelbrecht said he'll miss "matching wits" against other area coaches and teams, but he'll miss being around his players the most.

"That's why I always liked coaching junior high basketball," he said. "Those kids would grow, but you would also see their personalities and where they like to play, their temperament and how they handle pressure situations."

Engelbrecht finishes his career with a record of 573-315.

"I never anticipated being in coaching for this long," Engelbrecht said. " I thought I'd do it for 10 years, and then you're done. Here I am, 36 years later, and it's been a good ride."

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