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Thursday, March 8, 2012

State- "We haven't decided what this one is going to say yet"

Sometimes the coach is the teacher and the players are the students. Sometime the players are the teachers and the coach is the student. I felt like during our 1996 State Tourney run I was definitely the student.

For years girls had played at GHS and looked up at all the banners representing the boys basketball teams successes. But there were no banners for the girls until the 1995 team made it to the Sweet Sixteen. Quite honestly, I was not sure there would be any other banners during my coaching career. With our wins over Freeport and Moline in the Ottawa Sectional, we were headed to another Supersectional. With the Sectional Championship, we were going to put up another banner. It was such a thrill.

As we gathered for practice on Friday afternoon, everyone was still on a high from the big wins. As players it was obvious they were still sky high. As coaches, we were still more focused on the Sectional Championship than we probably should have been.

We always have started practice for the last twenty years the same way. The girls come out, jump rope, do a basic weak hand dribble routine, do weak hand layups, form shooting, and then partner shoot. On this Friday, it was no different, the girls came out and were getting started in their prepractice routine. As fate would have it, our prepractice always starts in the area of the gym right under the first Sweet Sixteen banner.

This is a good time for me as a coach to have some conversations with the players. On this day I pointed up at the first banner and made the comment, "We are putting up another banner." The girls all smiled.

Jennifer Bulkeley didn't miss a beat and replied, "Yes, but we haven't decided what this one is going to say yet."

The message was loud and clear, we still have work to do. Her statement provided such a good transition from celebration of the win to focus on the next game. And indeed the 1996 team still had work to do, they went on to take 3rd place in State.

I don't know if the 1996 team was one of the best teams but they were definitely the toughest team I have coached. The combination of their work ethic and their toughness made them tough to beat.

As sophomores Sara Wood and Ami Pendry were the starting guards on a team who lost in the Sectional. Bonny Apsey was a year ahead of them, and I have always thought Bonny gave all of the them "permission" to work hard. My wife and I always had late suppers because Bonny always stayed and had a shooting routine she did after each practice.

So when Sara and Ami were on the varsity as sophs, I told them to win over the older teammates I wanted them to stay after practice every day to work on their game. I gave them a routine of about 15 minutes to do. Sara became the task master and turned the 15 minute work out into a 30 minute workout. Ami and Sara stayed 30 minutes after every single practice as sophs. Sara continued and stayed after every single practice of her soph, junior and senior years. It is no wonder she is a leader in the Marines today.

Ami and Sara went thru a lot as soph guards on the varsity. At one point when things were not going well, they called and wanted me to have special practices for them on Sundays. So for the rest of the season, we went into the gym every Sunday afternoon for about an hour and half.

They had great success with the 1995 team. They had really high goals going into the 1996 season. I was not sure their goals were realistic. I was afraid they were in for disappointment. After the '96 season was over, one of the fathers shared his concerns about the goals also. He said he and his wife were not sure if they should their daughter down to tell her she needed to establish more realistic goals.

In 1996 we sailed along winning our first 10 games. It made one wonder if high goals were not in order. Then we stumbled badly. We lost at Maria by 5, at home to Quincy by 5, and at Rocky by 2. In six days we went from undefeated and on top of the world to a team in a three game losing streak.

After the Rocky lost, some of the players looked like they were headed for deep depression. They moped around the lockeroom and then the gym. They did not look like they were going to leave. I asked the four still hanging around- Jennifer Bulkeley, Molly Watson, Sara Wood, and Ami Pendry if they wanted to come over to our house and have some pizza. My answer to joy is food, my answer to depression is food. When they came over, I injected a few thoughts about moving on, but to be honest said very little. As they ate, they talked, and they "counseled" each other. After about fifteen minutes it was obvious the four would not allow discouragement or self-pity. They were like little coaches going over their screw ups and seemed sure it would not happen again. They never blamed teammates, refs, or even me-- the focus was on what they personally needed to do better.

I have been around few people (adults or teens) who were as focused and driven as those four girls. While they had basketball talent, it was their drive and toughness which allowed them to go on to take 3rd in State. All four went on to be huge successes in college basketball and in college academically. And now they are all doing things much more important than high school basketball. But I am confident their successes today are the result of the same drive and toughness they exhibited as teenagers.

1 comment:

  1. Great story, Evan. I'm sure those players remember the lessons learned from you, and the ones maybe they taught.