Tip Your Cap

In 2011, my Northwest Missouri State women’s basketball team got hot at just the right time.  It was quite a post-season roll.  It started in a first-round game with Truman State in the MIAA Tournament. We were the one seed and Truman barely made the tournament as the eighth seed.

We jumped to a double-digit lead, but that lead slowly began to shrink.  With about 15 minutes to go in the game, Truman took their first lead.  We started to play better, and in the end, we won by nine points.  As it turned out, that was our only single-digit win until Northwest was knocked out of the NCAA Tournament in the Final Four.

At each post-game handshake with an MIAA coach, I would compliment their play and they would compliment our play.  I’m not sure right now, but in 2011, most of the head coaches had a healthy respect for each other.  Those coaches may have thought they lost for one reason or another, but they never let it get in the way of complimenting the winning team, at least publicly.  In the region, the next step in post season, that respect wasn’t around.  The Bearcats played great as they took the floor three times in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.   In the championship game, Central Oklahoma kept it pretty close, but in the end the Bearcats pulled away.  After the game, I got a “good game” blow-by hand shake. In the post-game press conference, it was all his team did wrong, not what we did right.

In the first game of the Elite Eight, we played Cal State-Pomona.  It was a game pretty similar to the Central Oklahoma game.  After sixth consecutive double-digit win, I was feeling pretty good about my team.  That was until I heard the Pomona coach tell the media the reason they lost was the officials allowed our post player to camp in the lane.

In the Final Four game, Michigan Tech stopped our normal early game run.  We trailed at half but came back with 29 points in the second half from Gentry Dietz.  It wasn’t enough as Michigan Tech hit eight out of 10 three-point field goals in the second half.

We had scored more than 30 points than the Michigan Tech team had allowed on the average.  I never had a player score 29 points in a half and lose.  It was almost unimaginable.  At the press conference after the game, the only thing I could think to say was, “Sometimes you just have to tip your cap to the other team.”

That leads me to one of my biggest pet peeves; excuses.  When I first started at Northwest, wins were hard to come by. Pittsburg State had a good team and a good coach (who left years ago).  He just had that one problem that he never got beat by the other team.  Usually it was inept officials that costs the Gorillas the game.

The thing that drove me nuts was he made sure I knew how bad the officials were when he got beat.  I would be feeling pretty good for a big win, only to have it put in another category when the opposing coach told the media we didn’t deserve to win.

There were coaches notorious for the excuse game.  At Doane College, we had to build a program.  I was told by one coach in the league never to take the job at Doane because they would never let me win.

It took four years to finally beat that coach’s team.  When we lost those first nine games, I always got a “your kids played hard,” line after the game.  After we started winning, I got the blow-by handshake.  That coach hated Doane so bad she even didn’t shake my hand after they beat us one time.

The worse display of sportsmanship I ever saw was in a Classic at the dome in Vermilion, South Dakota.  Doane played Grand View and South Dakota played Benedictine.  The coaches of those teams are long gone, so I don’t mind mentioning the teams.

Doane played great and beat Grand View easily.  The Grand View coach went to the end of the bench, acting like she was picking up the towels.  I stood at the scorer’s table, waiting for the post game hand shake.  Finally, when she was sure I wouldn’t leave until the hand shake, the coach put down the towels and did a blow-by.

South Dakota had an equally easy time with Benedictine.  Amazingly, the Benedictine coach pulled the same trick with the towels after the game.  I must have missed the coaching class that came to post-game handshakes.

I pointed it out to the South Dakota coach, who also is no longer at South Dakota.  I told him I thought it would be funny if both went straight to the towels after they played each other the next night.  Their game was just before our game.

Grand View won in a close game.  After the final horn, both coaches headed straight for the towels.  Their players formed two lines and shook hands, but not the coaches.  Neither was at the table waiting for the hand shake.  

Both looked up about the same time, seemed offended the other wasn’t headed their way, then took off for the other’s locker room.  The entire time, the South Dakota coach and I watched and about rolled on the floor, it was that funny.

There’s that thing that coaches say to excuse that behavior.  They say they are just too competitive.  What’s tipping your cap to the other team got anything to do with being competitive.

Basketball is a great game, but some coaches forget that their opponents have the same goal of winning.  Sometimes, you just have to give credit where credit is due.  Just tip your cap.