Prince of Peace's Patrick Mulholland (left) and head coach Gerry Murphy (right) embrace after the Irish clinched the program's first trip to state since 1994, defeating Dunkerton 63-60 Saturday at Midland High School. 

Prince of Peace coach Gerry Murphy has been waiting a long time to coach at Wells Fargo Arena, and finally got to do it this year. The run has earned him the 2019 Clinton Herald Coach of the Year recognition.

In his 18th year as head coach for the Irish, Murphy finally got to lift a state qualifier banner and make the arrangements to head to Des Moines. With an overall record of 229-182 and a handful of talented squads to come through his program, it was a big moment.

“This is every coach’s goal at the beginning of the year,” Murphy said. “It was special going to state with this group. We have had some really good teams that didn’t get there, so to finally make it, a dream come true for the team.

That included two sub-state appearances and three district finals. This year, he was handed a roster of talented and seasoned athletes. With four seniors in the starting lineup, it was a group filled with experience that handled pressures of the season well as it went on.

That included taking on big conference foes like Easton Valley and Calamus-Wheatland, earning a share of the Tri-Rivers Conference crown, losing just three contests during the regular season and playing without starter Michael Matthew for a chunk of the season.

“It’s because they believed they could get it done,” Murphy said. “They believed in each other and that they could win every game.”

Murphy had plenty of people to score. Big man Nathan Moeller can get above the entire field for tip-ins and shots. All-stater Kaidion Larson could dribble through anything and take on two and three defenders at a time. Patrick Mulholland could put in long distance threes from anywhere on the court.

Offense wasn’t the issue. Where his team really improved this year was defense. The Irish were able to shut down players and teams with aggressive man-to-man. They allowed the second-least amount of points in the Tri-Rivers Conference, second only to Easton Valley.

“My coaching style has stayed the same,” Murphy said. “This team bought into playing defense this year, pushed the ball when we had it and took quality shots. Everyone knew their roles and performed them. We came together as a team to accomplish our goals.”

According to the athletes who joined Murphy on the road to Des Moines, he looks out for his players and what they’re basketball strengths are.

“Best coach I ever had,” senior Kaidion Larson said. “I had a bond with Gerry I never had with a coach before and I knew he actually cared about me.

“[From a] basketball standpoint, he let me make mistakes and never forced us to play any certain way. He let us play to our strengths that’s what made him great to me.”

The entire school holds Murphy in high esteem. Alumni from the program littered the stands every step of the way and were the first ones on the floor for handshakes and hugs for their former coach. After the final horn went off at Midland High School to solidify the Irish’s state berth, the entire student section started chanting “Gerry ... Gerry ... Gerry ...”

“Playing for Coach Murphy has had its ups and downs, but no matter how hard he was on you you always knew he cared and was trying to make you the player he knew you could be,” senior Michael Matthew said. “It was great to finally get him to the state tournament, and to do it our senior year made it that much more special. No coach has been more deserving of making a trip to Des Moines than Coach Murphy.”

Plus he was able to offer the athletes a memory they won’t soon forget.

“Fun doesn’t describe it,” Larson said after the state game. “This is the best team I’ve ever played on. I’ve never really been on a winning team except my sophomore year. We just came together.”

“It has been the greatest experience of my life,” junior Nathan Moeller said. “When I’m a dad, I’m going to be telling my kids about this. I’m going to be showing them pictures, showing them videos of us playing. It is like a dream.”