ST. JAMES - Putting in the work ultimately paid off for Zach Brandts.
As a four-year starter for the St. James Area boy's basketball team, Brandts finished with a career total of 1,888 points to cement his name as the school's all-time leading scorer. That, along with setting the school record in single-season scoring with 736 points while averaging 27.2 per game, solidified him as the 2014 All-Journal Boy's Basketball Player of the Year.
"He's really an aggressive offensive player," said coach Steve Walker. "It started out his first few years - he pretty much scored most of his points right around the basket. The last couple years as he has gotten stronger and gotten older, he's really developed a mid-range game and this year was able to shoot 3-ball pretty consistently."
Brandts started playing basketball when he was in fourth grade and knew he had talent in the sport early on. However, he said a lot of his time growing up in the sport was spent putting in the extra work to make himself that much better.
During the 2010-11 season, Walker said his team had a lack of scorers, which prompted him to give Brandts a shot to play at the varsity level having seen his tenacity coming up through seventh and eighth grade.
"I was playing kids that were 3-4 years older than me, so it was nerve-racking," Brandts said of playing as a freshman. "[I got used to it] halfway or three-quarters of the way through the season. I started playing pretty good, put some points on the board. I just let my talents take over."
From his sophomore season on, Brandts served as the team's primary scorer. However, the team itself continued its rut following Brandt's freshman season, during which it went 4-21 and winless in the South Central Conference.
In the three seasons leading up to this one, the Saints went 9-66 overall and 0-30 in the conference. With Brandts' scoring prowess in place, however, Walker said the experience that returned for this season enabled his team for a drastic turnaround.
One key variable was the play of fellow senior Walker Froehling, who played the uncommon role as a 6-foot-7 point guard.
"With Froehling, we developed some mismatches and I think that actually opened things up more for Zach because this was his best year scoring," Walker said. "I think that's what really made a big difference this year was that teams could focus on [Brandts] inside and now this year they couldn't."
Behind Brandts' scoring ability and Froehling's efficiency at the point, St. James Area improved from its 3-22 campaign to a 21-6 season that concluded with a berth in the Section 3AA semifinals.
As the No. 2 seed in the South Subsection in 3AA, St. James Area fell to eventual-section champion Fairmont to end Brandts' career in bittersweet fashion.
"Going from fourth grade to senior year, we never beat Fairmont," Brandts said. "So losing to Fairmont in the last game of my high school career was really tough on me. Hanging up my jersey, it hurt a little bit, but when I realized what we had done during the season, it made me feel a little bit better.
"And knowing that Fairmont beat us and went to state and got fourth, I can give my applause to Fairmont."
Of his numerous accolades - which include the school records for both career and single-season marks in points, field goals and free throws made - Brandts said the record that sticks out to him was the team's number of wins.
"Coming up with 21 wins my senior year, I couldn't ask for anything more," Brandts said. "Having 1,800 [points] and being the leading scorer, that's great, but having that 21-win season record, I'll never ever forget that."
As of now, Brandts is still undecided as to where he's going to go to college. The plan is to go to either Iowa Lakes Community College in Estherville, Iowa, and try to work up to a Division II or I school or Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato to compete right away at the Division III level.
As for Walker, he is hoping that the imprint Brandts and Co. left on his program will set the tone for future success down the road.
"Winning breeds winning," Walker said. "We had 10 seniors and they spent a lot of time in the offseason playing in summer leagues and fall leagues. Hopefully guys see that that's what we need to do continue that success.
"Every year is different. You've got different kids that are coming in each year, but hopefully one of the things learned was that if you put in a lot of time, you have a chance to be successful."