Getting Hit In The Mouth

I can’t remember the exact year.  I was the women’s basketball coach at Doane College.  The year before had been the best year in the school’s history.  The Tigers I had the privilege to coach had set all kind of school records.  We won 31 games.  For the first time in school history, we had been ranked number one in the nation.

Going into post season, we were ranked third.  On the way to a conference championship, Midland beat us at home.  No more number one in the nation.  It was a nasty punch in the mouth.

It was just what we needed.  Two weeks later we are facing the same Midland team in the conference championship tournament game.  Things were different.  We led by almost 40 points at half.  We scored almost as many points the first half as we did the entire game two weeks earlier.  We took the punch and came out swinging.

We took that momentum all the way to the Final Four in the NAIA National Tournament.  We lost a heart breaking game, on a last second shot after we had rallied from 15 points down to tie the game.

The next year was a totally different team.  Graduation had hit us hard.  The conference player of the year and a first-team Kodiak All American had graduated.  We replaced her with a quick, smallish sophomore point guard.

All in all, the season went well until we faced Briar Cliff on the last Saturday in January.  We traveled to Sioux City to play the undefeated team.  They proved why they hadn’t lost.

My sophomore point guard turned the ball over 10 times in the face of a frantic pressing defense.  She finally begged out of the game halfway through the second half.  Briar Cliff coaches were kind to the Doane Tigers that night.  They held it down to a 28-point win.

It was one serious punch in the mouth.  I was really worried how my young team would react.  Thanks to a great plan by my assistant coach, we put in a press break just in case we saw Briar Cliff in the national tournament.

No one believed we could ever advance that far after the drubbing we took.  Briar Cliff was rolling over everyone, averaging almost 100 points per game.  It didn’t matter.  Every day in practice, we worked five minutes on the new press break.

We did make the national tournament, but it took two overtime wins in the first two rounds to get the privilege to face Briar Cliff, who was still undefeated.  I’ll never forget the Sterling College coach’s words to me after our game.  He said he hated to lose a game, but better us than them to face Briar Cliff.

My young team had less than 24 hours turn-around time.  It didn’t matter.  We had spent five minutes of practice every day for the last six weeks on just how to break that vicious press.

We won that game, giving Briar Cliff their first and only loss of the season.  We weren’t a better team.  We won the game because we had been punched in the mouth and reacted the right way.

Northwest Missouri State’s football team won a national championship in 2013.  It looked like the Bearcats would always be a threat to the national championship in NCAA II football.  The 2014 season proved just what a fine line there is between a national champion and a first round loss.

The Bearcats were hit in the mouth twice in 2014.  The Pitt State loss at home stung the most.  The Gorilla’s recovered three on-side kicks and the game wasn’t really very close.

The second punch in the mouth came in the first round of the playoffs.  Thanks to the Pitt State loss, the Bearcats went on the road to face Minnesota –Duluth.  Despite leading most of the game, the season ended with a 24 – 21 lost.

Football teams in NCAA II should have been kinder to Northwest in 2014.  I’m not sure what their main motivation was, but I don’t think a program like Northwest’s like not playing into December.

Those 2014 punches in the mouth must have had some affect.  The Bearcats haven’t lost since.  Is a third straight National Championship in the cards for the Bearcats?

Northwest did get a punch in the mouth last year, but it happened to the basketball team.  They were rolling along undefeated when they rolled into Missouri Southern.  Southern had been an easy win in Maryville.

Things didn’t go well in Joplin.  It really wasn’t a close game.  I know I kept waiting for a patented Bearcat comeback.  It didn’t come and the basketball team received their first punch in the mouth.

I don’t know if that loss helped the team refocus.  Some people say a loss is good for an undefeated team.  I know not a single coach ever hopes their team loses.  If they have to take a loss, it is good if it some good comes from it.

It was late in March when the men’s basketball team claimed their first national championship in school history.  That game in Joplin was their only loss of the season.

I took all this time setting up what happened to the Maryville football team a couple of weeks ago.  Chillicothe ended an amazing streak of over five years of never losing a regular season game.

Chillicothe dominated the Spoofhounds that night, winning 24 – 0.  That was one serious punch in the mouth.  Chillicothe is in Maryville’s district.  There is a chance the team will be traveling back to Chillicothe for a rematch.  I was afraid on how the team would react.

Last Friday, the Spoofhounds picked themselves off the turf and demolished a decent LeBlond team.  The score was 42 – 6 at halftime.  The clock ran without stoping the entire second half.  Coach Webb got his players to respond in exactly the right way.

There are a few tough games before districts begin.  The Spoofhounds might even lose another game or two to schools in a larger class.  Maybe they won’t lose another game. All I know for sure is I can’t wait for a district rematch with the Hornets.  I think Maryville may be doing the punching in the post-season.

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