What Do You Want?

Serena Sundell is an incredible basketball player for Maryville High School.  She just completed her sophomore year.  Already, she has scored 1,092 points, just short of the Maryville career scoring record of 1,121 by Jennifer McGary (80-84).  Did I mention she was a sophomore?

Serena easily breaks the record this year, but the only person that could beat Serena one on one, Mother Nature, cancelled four games for the Spoofhounds.  What’s even more impressive to me is how unselfish Serena plays.

In the district finals, St Pius X beat the Maryville girls, even though Serena scored 24 points, which was 62% of the team’s points.  Quentin Albrecht’s team is consistently climbing the ladder, making it to district finals for the first time in several years.

The Maryville boys won the district championship for the fourth straight year.  They have a 1,000-point scorer in Eli Dowis.  They played Pius in the district championship, like the girls’ team.  Incredibly, they hit six three-point field goals in the first quarter and never looked back.  They have the balance scoring that has evaded the girls’ team.

What that means is the post season is here.  When people ask me if I miss coaching, my answer is always the same, “Only in March.”  I loved the post season. My teams had some failures in March, but I have selected memory as I remember the successes.  I would always ask the team if they were the type of team that couldn’t wait for March or couldn’t wait for spring break?

The Northwest men’s team has had an unbelievable season.  I doubt anyone thought they would be undefeated on February 23 after all the graduation losses.  There is some thought that a loss is good to refocus a team.  That happened in 2017 during the national championship season, when their only loss was to Missouri Southern.

I was listening to Ben McCullum, the Northwest coach, talk on the radio after the team’s conference clinching championship win at Central Missouri Wednesday.  He was asked about being undefeated and he quoted something his college coach had said.

That coach was Steve Tappmeyer, who Ben followed at Northwest.  When someone told Tapp that he thought the team would be 27 – 3, Tapp asked that person who he would like to lose to?  I think the Bearcats have plenty of focus.

It seems there is always something that happens that you don’t expect when a team finds success in the post season.  In 1983, I had an undefeated high school girls’ team at Wilber-Clatonia High School.  We had very few close games, but in the semifinals of the state tournament, we had a scare.  We trailed Grant High School at half for the first time all year and won the game by three points.

In the state championship game, we faced Omaha Cathedral, a team that full court pressed the entire game.  Our weakness was in ball handling, but no one had exploited that flaw all season. Many people thought this is when it would happen.

The game was at noon and we had a 30-mile drive to the game.  The team had been a fun-loving team all season.  I let them be loud on the bus on the way to games.  They were loose and having fun and it showed on the court.

The problem was they didn’t say a word the entire trip to Lincoln.  Finally, as we reached the state prison, about 10 minutes from the gym the silence was broken.  It started with a sophomore reserve kidding another sophomore reserve about her love life.

Leah Carson was the instigator, accusing Cheryl Wiese of not focusing for state.  Apparently, Cheryl had been caught “parking” with her boyfriend by the Wilber water tower.  That’s when Leah asked Cheryl a question that if you took it one way, would be a question you would never ask in front of a coach.

You could feel everyone on the yellow school bus hold their breath, while waiting to see my reaction.  Before I could respond, Leah told the punchline to the joke, which wasn’t at all off-color.

The bus exploded in laughter and everyone started talking at once.  I don’t think Cheryl liked being the brunt of the joke, but it might have won us a state championship.  We never trailed and won by 23 points.  Penny Thompson and Angie Miller scored 26 and 25 points and Angie set a Class C state scoring record of 90 points.  She also was offered a scholarship to the University of Nebraska.  Great coaching?  I doubt it.  A great joke?  Absolutely.

In 2008, I had a great bunch of seniors with high expectations at Northwest Missouri State.  The problem with expectations is they are hard to live up to sometimes.  We stumbled into the conference tournament below .500 and seeded fifth in the tournament.  Our first opponent was Missouri Southern.

Things didn’t change much.  We played without much enthusiasm, but well enough to stay within striking distance. With nine minutes left, we trailed by 10. Southern went into a type of delay.  They had a great one-on-one player.  She would dribble for 20 seconds, then attack.

The Southern player was mocking our players and things suddenly changed. Every time the Southern player attacked, we helped like we hadn’t done all season. Gradually we came back and forced the game into overtime.  Nothing could stop us now.

We won that game, beat Washburn, a top five team nationally, in the semifinals and beat Southwest Baptist by 23 in the championship game.  We entered the NCAA tournament with the worst record among the 64 teams.  Momentum was still on our side as we beat West Texas A & M in overtime with a half-court shot in the first round of the Regional Tournament.

That Southern player had done something I just couldn’t accomplish as a coach.  That player made our kids mad. Suddenly, we weren’t waiting for spring break, we were wanting to play in March.

I do miss March.  Everything it takes to get to March is a grind.  It’s not a grind in March, though.  The big question for every team is, “Do you want to play in March?”