Nazareth helps Kienzle through difficult year
Niles- Dan Kienzle (center) Nazareth battles for the rebound with Tommy Clarke of ND pressuring.The boys of Nazareth Academy travel to the home of the Notre Dame Dons for Friday night basketball.| Joe Cyganowski~For Sun-Times Media
Thursday Wrestling: at St. Viator, with Carmel, 6 p.m.
Wrestling: at St. Viator, with Carmel, 6 p.m.
Saturday Girls basketball: Providence at Nazareth, 1 p.m.
Girls basketball: Providence at Nazareth, 1 p.m.
Updated: February 19, 2013 12:33PM
NILES — It takes mental toughness to excel as a defensive player.
That’s a quality that senior Dan Kienzle has plenty of as Nazareth’s best all-around defender.
“It’s hard work and it’s just a matter of wanting to do it,” Kienzle said. “There’s satisfaction in shutting a guy down to help the team out and it’s about wanting to prove that you can do it.”
Kienzle fights his way around picks, takes charges and gets knocked to the floor, expending himself fully by chasing around an opponent’s best offensive player for 32 minutes. But none of that compares to the toughness Kienzle has needed away from the court in his senior year.
In April, Kienzle’s mother Mary Beth was diagnosed with breast cancer and in December, Kienzle’s grandfather died.
“That was hard on us and he was my biggest fan,” Kienzle said. “He came to every game he could get to and even in the hospital before he passed away he was talking about how he couldn’t wait to get out of there and come to one of my games.”
The Nazareth community also lost coach Jerry Browne to cancer in August. Browne was the Nazareth sophomore basketball coach and he coached Kienzle for two seasons.
“Coach Browne was one of the toughest guys I’ve ever met. I loved playing for him,” Kienzle said. “He was going through cancer treatment and I think he only missed two or three practices in those two years. It was hard to see him go.
“My grandfather didn’t make it and neither did coach Browne, and I’m playing my senior year for them.”
Browne held a similarly high opinion of Kienzle.
“Before he passed away he talked about his admiration for Dan, and what a great kid he is,” Nazareth head coach John Bonk said. “He would frequently say how, if he had a son, he would want that kid to be like Dan. Dan has gone through a lot emotionally this season and has still maintained a positive, team-first attitude.”
Kienzle, who also plays baseball at Nazareth, credits the team attitude at Nazareth for helping him cope with the adversity.
“My mom was diagnosed in the spring,” Kienzle said. “My baseball team was there for me then, and when my grandfather passed away in December the whole basketball team and my coaches came to the wake. They all had my back.”
On Friday in a road game at Notre Dame, Kienzle had his teammates’ backs as he chased Dons’ senior Matt Mooney all over the court. Kienzle also hit a late 3-point shot that sent the game into overtime before Nazareth lost 63-53 to the Dons.
But the loss couldn’t damper the best news Kienzle has had in a year full of difficult news.
“My mom is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. On Friday she found out in the morning that all the cancer cells were gone after surgery,” Kienzle said. “So if we would have beat Notre Dame, that would have been one of the better days of my life, right there.”