The Winter Springs Bears shocked the district. We were 5-20 on the season, 1-5 in the district, and tonight we beat the top seed Evans 65-60. We play Oviedo in the district final Friday night, and have assured a place in the regional quarter finals next week.
The game for us was phenomenal. For tonight, we fielded a team of heroes. We shot 56% from the field. We made clutch free throws. We rebounded against a larger team. We got the loose. We defended, taking three charges. We played with audacity, and didn’t buckle when we lost our lead. We had a plan and we executed it, not perfectly, but well enough to win.
I have already mentioned our record, but that doesn’t tell you that four guys that dressed for opening night left the team….frustrated, beaten, threw up the white flag and stopped coming. Two guys from my JV went up to varsity. Both of them had some reservations in doing so, but they did. They took lumps. They lost games. Their pride hurt. Our only returning starter from last year spent the summer rehabbing a surgically repaired knee. Last year the varsity was 7-19. He undoubtedly felt that this year couldn’t be any worse, and until tonight it was. The majority of the other varsity guys have been mostly in and occaisionally out of the dog house, and if I had to guess, have thought long and hard about joining the four other guys that quit, but they didn’t.
In my mind, and being around this group all season, only one guy never seemed to give into the frustration and hardship of losing. Tonight he was 9/12 from the field and played so hard after a twisting reverse lay up, he cramped up and laid on the floor unable to play anymore. Two minutes later, he tapped Coach Lange on the shoulder and went back to the scorers table.
I think our collective frustration peaked at the holiday tournament. Guys quit. We went 1-2. Everyone was short with each other. Trimmed to the “Elite 8” and then “the Nasty 9”, the team developed an identity. Coach Lange and the staff lightened the tone, let the team breathe and focused on day to day improvement. While results did not readily follow, the mentality changed and growth occurred. The seeds of tonight’s win were planted.
Tonight was a victory of that process and the persistent belief of the thirteen guys who dressed out, and four coaches. I am happy for each one of them. I hope they carry not just the feeling of this win with them, but also the recognition of the struggle to get here as well. The value of belief.
We are not done. Friday night opportunity knocks for a district title and win or lose, we play a regional next week. Beyond that we are building a program to achieve enduring success on the court and in the individuals of the program into life.