ANDREW JANSEN / JOURNAL Kahlid Hagens, Maplewood-Richmond Heights, in their loss to Cardinal Ritter in the Class 3 District 5 Championship game.

A year ago, Kahlid Hagens was just making his way back from being in a bad way. Then a sophomore, Hagens was still recovering from complications of appendicitis. His appendix burst near the week before Halloween. The starting quarterback, he had to watch from the sidelines as the Maplewood-Richmond Heights football team managed to reach its first Class 2 state title game where it was defeated by Penney.

Hagens was hoping to put his frustration into the best basketball season he could, but things didn’t work out that way. He missed 11 games because of an infection. He didn’t take the court until January and wasn’t 100 percent, as he helped the Blue Devils to the district championship game where they were defeated in overtime by Cardinal Ritter.

Fast forward a year, and the 6-foot-3, 175-pound Hagens, now a junior, has enjoyed a relatively healthy season. He resumed his spot at quarterback and threw for 2,237 yards and 18 touchdowns. He also rushed for another 12 while leading Maplewood to the state semifinals.

On the basketball court, he’s been just as dynamic. He’s leading the team with 17 points per game and averaging almost five rebounds, four steals and two assists every time out. He’s hit 20 of his 34 three-point attempts, which means he’s making 59 percent of his triples—a ridiculously high percentage. “I just thank God for giving me this opportunity,” Hagens, 17, says of playing a healthy season.

While Hagens is an offensive force, the Blue Devils and their coach, Corey Frazier, have made their reputation off defense. And their defense is starting to come into its own. Maplewood is 15-6 and had won 11 of its last 13 games. Those two losses came at top-ranked small school Soldan and at Hazelwood Central. It was at Hazelwood Central that Hagens went coast-to-coast in four seconds and was just a hair too slow getting off his layup as the final buzzer sounded. The Blue Devils took a 61-60 loss. “Next time, I’m going to pull up,” Hagens promised.

But the reason Maplewood was even in that game with a team that many believe to be one of the best large schools in the region, if not the state, is because of its defense. Frazier installed a new defense recently that has become a weapon the Blue Devils have used to exploit their opponents. It’s a pressing and trapping defense that puts extra pressure on the opponent’s ball handler. A good point guard can, with some patience and help from his teammates, find his way past it if he’s careful. An unprepared point guard is going to throw that ball all over the place— which is exactly what the Blue Devils want. “Our defense is our offense,” Hagens says.

He means that literally. If the Blue Devils can get the opponent’s ball handler to panic and cough up the rock, they’ll be hustling the other way for an easy transition basket. When the ball falls through the net, they set up the gauntlet once more and try to get another easy layup. It feeds on itself. “The defense (Frazier) put in is going to make us better and take us to the next level,” Hagens says.

To reach that next level, though, the Blue Devils will have to find their way past Ritter. The Lions were down 10 points last year at Maplewood and managed to rally back to eke out the victory. This year they’ll play that district title game at Vashon. Hagens believes the Blue Devils have what it takes to win. “We have good chemistry,” Hagens says.

A healthy Hagens and a defense that makes life miserable for opponents— yeah, that’s some pretty good chemistry.