The Wranglers spent the weekend in Rapid City, SD at the Black Hills Energy Shootout. They finished 0-3, but battled hard and fell just a few points shy in two of the three games.
Intimidation and finishing
As a coach, you often see just how big of a challenge it can be for young athletes to believe that the outcome of any game is a story yet to be written. Throughout the travel ball season the same teams meet often. We’ve played the same Sheridan team in almost every tourney this year. The dominate Gillette team is almost always in the Championship game. And this years’ Wrangler team has a sense of where they fit in, who they can compete with, and which teams are beyond their ability to beat.
But none of those assumptions are representative of the potential this group of kids possess. This tournament provided the opportunity for a breakthrough, a substantial shift in mindset.
The first game resembled many of the past games we’ve played. A slow Wrangler’s start, a mid-game rally, and a game clock that expired too quickly. We came up short but realized as a team that the game needs to be won in the little things, the hustle and the dirty work that is often overlooked.
The second game allowed us to gain some of the mental ground we lost earlier in the day. The offense was clicking better, the boys were hustling with more purpose, and we started to find our identity on defense. At the final
The Sunday game had a familiar feel. Our opponent was a team that is widely regarded as one of the elite teams in our division. They’ve played in championship games in other tourneys this season. They are quick, disciplined, and have the mental advantage over many teams before ever lining up for the start-of-game tip.
The Wranglers came out strong. They were more aggressive defensively. They seemed to be more comfortable than usual with the pace of the game. And the scoreboard reflected this quiet confidence.
The Wranglers kept the score close and mounted several runs during the course of the first half and early second half. With just 30 seconds left the Wranglers were just down by 4. A coast-to-coast push and strong finish closed the gap to just two. With 12 seconds left, the Wranglers snatched a rebound, hit the outlet, pushed the ball towards mid-court, hit the release, and finished the play with a layup to tie the game.
Whistle. An alarmingly late whistle.
The wind left the collective stands as the ref at the far end, the end opposite of where the team just scored, sounded a late whistle and called off the score. Travel was called. No basket.
The final 10 seconds ticked off without any score and the Wranglers lost a close one by just 2 points.
The obligatory post-game discussion quickly turned to the call. The refs were less than popular in that huddle but it took one simple observation to change the entire tenor of the conversation.
Teams cannot allow games to be decided by the refs, the court, the ball, or any other ancillary concern. Own it. Be responsible for the outcome by giving it every effort you have. And regardless of the outcome it’s important to own it.
As a coach, these moments are the hardest. You know the truth. You know the impact a bad call can have on the mindset of young players. And you know that their careers hold so many more opportunities to compete. This is just the beginning.
We discussed all of this as a team. The players moved past the call quickly. And then the eureka moment.
We just narrowly missed the opportunity to best a team that has won tourneys this season, a team that beat our chief rival the game before by a margin of 15 points.
If we can almost beat them, and they can beat our rival by so much, then we should not be intimidated by our chief rival any longer.
Excitement. Pride. Energy.
In that moment, as a coach, I could see it all change. My only wish is that we could have laced up the shoes and taken on anyone that wanted a piece of the Wranglers right then and there.
Unfortunately, the Wranglers will have to wait until the final tourney of the season in Spearfish on March 22nd. It will be three and a half weeks of anticipation for sure.
The people behind the scenes
A big thank you to Blacktooth Financial Inc and Prueit Ag Services LLC for their financial support this season. Their sponsorships help cover the costs this season. The team greatly appreciates it.