Archive for Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Smith: Chieftains’ labor made team a winner

March 10, 2009

— A journey that started last June in the hot, muggy summer came to an end on a wet, stormy March night Saturday.

Through all weather, the Tonganoxie High boys basketball team worked relentlessly — whether it was lifting weights, getting to know the new coach or playing pickup games in the summer or busting out gut-wrenching sprints, battling in the Kaw Valley League or contending for the program’s first state tournament berth since 1984 during the three-month marathon that was the 2008-09 season.

So when the Chieftains came oh-so-close to glory and had to watch the final ticks of their 14-9 season under first-year coach Shawn Phillips come to a close with a 68-50 loss to rival Basehor-Linwood in a Class 4A sub-state championship game, it stung.

“The guys are all very upset, and it’s always hard to come to an end when you’ve put so much hard work into something,” Phillips said. “The finality when that comes to an end is tough.”

No one likes to see something good cut short.

“It’s probably the worst feeling I’ve ever felt in my life,” junior forward Keaton Schaffer said before wondering aloud how much deeper that wound was for seniors Austin Smith, Jamie Everett, Jace Waters and Rob Schlicht.

Smith, dealing not only with the emotional scars of the season-ending loss but also sporting blood over his left eye still fresh from the pivot’s war in the paint, said the 18-point loss was the worst injury of all.

“It’s really hard to take. It’s all over,” he said.

After emerging from the locker room for the last time in his THS career, what-ifs were trapped in Smith’s head like an annoyingly catchy jingle.

“There’s things that could have happened in the game and you just wish they would have went the other way,” he said.

And although Smith has shown flashes of fire at times when he has been frustrated, he and his fellow seniors took a devastating scenario and handled it with perfect class.

“It’s over and you’ve got to be a good sport about it,” Smith said. “It’s not gonna change anything if you’re out there yelling at people and punching stuff.”

That positive attitude likely stems from the success the team has had this season. One year ago, THS was 6-15. With eight more wins and six less losses under Phillips, the players took on a winner’s demeanor and represented the program with integrity.

“The thing that I’m most happy with is how hard our kids played,” Phillips said, noting that a number of opposing coaches have complimented them for that.

No matter how much the end smarts, the Chieftains’ effort made the season a success.

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