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Waterford - Rob Von Achen was feeling more like himself Thursday, the day he met with reporters to talk about the end of his 20-year career with the Waterford High School girls' basketball program, 17 as head coach.
He joked about forgetting to bring 8x10 glossy photographs with him for the front page of the newspaper and his son's dog, a Saint Bernard, taking up more room in the house than any two people that live there. He joked that because of the battles he's faced with his health the last few years, the reason he's stepping down, the only hospital he's missed staying in was one in Minnesota.
Von Achen, who coached the Lancers to state championship appearances in 2005 and 2007 and led the way to five 20-win seasons over the last 10 years, announced his retirement in a press conference at the Waterford Field House.
"Someone asked me recently what was my best team. I didn't have a best team," Von Achen said. "Every team was great. You could go 17-3 one season and the following year you could reverse it, but you got to meet and coach all these phenomenal kids.
"That's probably the most rewarding thing about coaching, not necessarily the success they gave me. I'm going to miss it a ton."
Von Achen missed part of last season after suffering a grand mal seizure in December and being hospitalized on a ventilator. Last week he had a port inserted so that he may begin kidney dialysis, although he will be able to administer the dialysis from home.
"I sat down with Dave (Sousa, Waterford athletic director) and talked about it," said Von Achen, a full 100 pounds lighter than when he began his career. "With my health issues I couldn't give the kids everything I wanted. I wasn't as sharp. I wasn't as quick. I wasn't doing the varsity level justice. I knew it was the right thing to do."
Sousa said Von Achen's position has been posted within the school system and interviews will begin next week.
Waterford was 4-16 last season after finishing 21-5 with an Eastern Connecticut Conference Medium Division title and a Class L quarterfinal berth in 2012, mainly due to the graduation of the bulk of its starting lineup from the league championship season.
Von Achen's best team, at least record-wise, was the 2004-05 squad, which went 25-2.
He puts his wife Mickey at the top of the list of people to thank.
"Absolutely phenomenal," Von Achen said. "She supported me every step, total support. Even last time she told me I might be coming back too early, she said, 'You might be coming back too early,' but then it was support again."
Von Achen has three children, Rob, Devon and Morgan, and five grandchildren.
Morgan played for her dad at Waterford, something he called "a thrill for a coach."
Reminiscing, he also thanked his players from Erin Patterson, the point guard his first season, to Kerrianne Dugan, part of his 2007 team and now the head coach at New London High School.
"Playing for coach Von Achen I've learned that he has a heart of gold," said Adily Martucci, an all-state guard who helped author a 16-game winning streak for the Lancers during the 2011-12 season and who now plays for Division I Quinnipiac University. "… We had a great team and, to top it off, a coach that had a passion for the game."
"Those are my best memories of basketball: high school," said Dugan, who went on to play at Central Connecticut State University. "All my friends and coach, just having such a great time. … He definitely loved it."