Chinstraps and Mouthpieces: Heartbreak should be short-lived for THS girls
Today was supposed to have a little more meaning than just March 8, 2006.
It was hoped that a Tonganoxie school bus, carrying the Tonganoxie High girls basketball team, would make its way through downtown, as it did last year before heading west to Salina for the Class 4A state tournament.
But Sumner made sure history wouldn't repeat itself -- at least not this year.
The Sabres fell to the Chieftains last year in overtime in the substate championship.
This year, in the rematch, it was Sumner players, coaches and fans who were all smiles, not the Chieftains.
As heartbreaking as it was for a team that had lost just once earlier in the season -- in overtime -- Tonganoxie players shouldn't dwell on this defeat for these reasons:
First, senior Kelley Stauch is the lone player who won't be returning from this squad when practice begins again in November.
Second, the experience can only help prepare this squad for another state run next year.
Third, sophomore standout Elizabeth Baska will be back from injury. Baska injured her knee days before substate in the regular-season finale. She then found out she needed surgery. On the sideline, with a surgically repaired knee propped on the Tonganoxie bench, she watched as her team came oh so close to a return trip to state. Don't be surprised if Baska's already stellar career doesn't miss a beat. Determination in rehab likely will get Baska back to the form she possessed before the injury.
Finally, there's Jason McElwain. Yes, one might think a student basketball manager from some New York state high school team doesn't have any bearing on a Kansas basketball program, but he does.
McElwain received national attention last month after he entered a regular-season game late in the fourth quarter. The manager scored 20 points in four minutes, a pretty amazing feat for any basketball player, but he was a manager -- who just happened to be autistic.
That correlation to Ton-ganoxie, and any other sports team, is simple. If a youngster in his position can realize his dreams, there's no reason other players can't reach their goals.
That said, despite their aspirations to win a state crown, all 64 Class 4A girls teams won't win the state title next season.
But working hard -- in the off-season and during the basketball season -- certainly can't hurt.
The girls' counterpart, the THS boys basketball team, has reason for motivation as well.
After an 18-game search for their first win of the year, the boys stubbornly rattled off two late-season wins.
The Chieftain boys must use that as a springboard for next season.
Although coach David Walker's teams haven't won a post-season game since 2002 -- his first year as head coach at THS -- that certainly could change next year.
Like the girls team, the boys lose just one senior -- Zack Pistora.
During Walker's first year at THS, he accomplished something that hadn't been done in about a decade. His Chieftain team finished the season with a winning record. In fact, that THS team, like this year's girls team, was just a win away from the state tournament.
For both teams to be successful in the 2006-07 season, hard work from now until November will be a necessity.
Whether that translates into wins is unknown, but taking advantage of opportunity is the key.
Just ask Jason McElwain.