Archive for Wednesday, March 9, 2005

Chinstraps and Mouthpieces: Magic Chieftain ride not finished just yet

March 9, 2005

My late father always had a saying whenever my alma mater advanced to the state basketball tournament.

"Whoever leaves town last, don't forget to turn out the lights when you leave," Dad would say.

Let's hope a similar situation unfolds in Tonganoxie this weekend.

For the first time since 1998, Tonganoxie will be heading to the state basketball tournament. Previously, the girls played in 1994 and 1985. Former THS athletics director John Lee led Tonganoxie in '98, while current THS instructor Mark Mall guided the Chieftains in the other two appearances.

Each of those, however, ended in first-round losses.

I'm not trying to brand this year's team with The Mirror jinx, but chances are good Tonganoxie will make some noise at this year's tournament.

The Chieftains' fans certainly did at the substate tournament in Basehor last week.

On Friday, the THS student section was loud throughout the game -- even if it was hard to find things to cheer about. When Tonganoxie faced Bishop Ward in the semifinals, the Cyclones used a stall offense that offered little for spectators.

To make the game interesting, the student section could be heard chanting "Run the offense," "This is boring," and "We want a refund," among others. At one point, the students pretended they were sleeping. And later in the game, turned their backs on the court and acted as if they were painting the wall behind them.

The student section was clever that night.

Even Madison Weller got into the act. At one point, Weller backed away from the ball carrier and helped guard a post player in the stall offense. Weller started to do a little dance while the Ward player held the ball for more than a minute. That likely was a first in substate history. The senior didn't have a name for her dance, but it likely was the last anyone will see of the Weller Waltz on the dance, I mean, basketball floor.

One has to give Ward plenty of credit. It had a strategy it wasn't about to change -- even if it proved unpopular with some fans.

And it was working to some extent. When Tonganoxie had open shots, it was missing. Although THS never trailed, Ward never was too far behind. In the end, the Chieftain escaped and advanced.

On Saturday, no one in the THS student section was dozing off.

The neck-and-neck game went in Sumner's favor in the second half, but THS didn't back down.

When Ali Pistora hit that amazing shot right before the buzzer in the fourth, the Basehor-Linwood gym erupted with energy -- at least a portion of the gymnasium.

At that point, I had a hunch Tonganoxie would take care of business in overtime.

Whenever a team sends a game into overtime, they obviously have the momentum.

But one could just see it in Tonganoxie players' eyes.

A relaxed and happy Tonganoxie bunch made its way back onto the court in overtime. Sumner players, meanwhile, weren't so sure about playing an extra period.
After THS went on a tear in overtime, the Chieftains did what many players had hoped to do in volleyball the last four years.
This time, that trophy said "substate champions."
On the other side of the court, some Sumner fans weren't quite ready to concede to Tonganoxie. Many fans started to boo as substate officials handed the Chieftains their trophy. One woman could even be seen motioning a "thumbs down" with both hands at the team.
I can't say I've ever seen opposing fans act so childish.
If Tonganoxie played without class, some boos likely would be in order. But that's just not how this Tonganoxie team does business.
As for state, residents can wish the Chieftains well Thursday between 10 a.m. and 10:15 a.m. when the team heads down Fourth Street and onward to Salina for the tournament. Come to Fourth Street and show your spirit. Nothing says small-town America like a send-off like that.
And while you're at it, hop in a car and head west on Interstate 70 later that day.
You better leave early, though.
Nobody wants to be in charge of turning out the lights.

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