February 27th, 2010
This is probably one of the most exciting weekends of EMU sports that I have had the privilege of experiencing in my five years at Athletic Director. I am spending the weekend in Salem, VA and it is great to have a reason to stay. Both the women’s and men’s team won their quarterfinal games and will play later today in the semifinals. It won’t be possible to capture what has been an incredible sports season in one blog, so likely you will get to read more as I dissect many of the different situations that have occured and the life lessons that can be taken from them. There are so many layers to the onion that could peeled off and I’ll try to do that in upcoming postings.
One of the more positive results of the success of the men’s basketball team this season is the significant increase in people interested in EMU athletics and EMU in general. The connections are coming from the local Harrisonburg and Rockingham County area as well as many alumni around the country. The number of hits to the webcast of the games against Randolph Macon and Guilford give clear indication that interest levels are at possible all-time highs. As a department, we have been talking about how to capitalize on this interest and provide more information and connections to those who have caught the Royal fever. One of the results of our discussions is the establishment of this blog. My intention is to post something each week that will give more depth or inside scoop on the events, even beyond the basketball season. I hope to provide more than the great write-ups that our SID, James De Boer provides after each athletic event.
We also podcasted an interview with both Kevin Griffin and Kirby Dean, women’s and men’s basketball coaches respectively, prior to their departure for Salem and the tournament. We are also exploring the possibility of webcasting all home men’s and women’s basketball games next year and may extend that to other sports. So stay tuned. We will be trying to provide you with as much access to EMU athletics as we can. Your ideas are certainly welcomed as we go down some untraveled paths.
While nearly all of the attention the past weeks have been focued on the men’s team and their great accomplishments, I want to make some comments on the significance of the women’s quarterfinal win over Randolph Macon on Thursday. One only has to imagine what the feelings and attitudes of the players individually and the team corporately had to be after beginning the season 10-0, 6-0 in conference games and ending with 3 consecutive losses and losing 6 of their final 9 games. As is almost always the case in sports, winning takes care of any problems and losing often brings out the worst in people. And our team was no different. Added to the losing was the hype surrounding the men’s team on campus, locally and nationally. I’m pretty sure that they felt like no one cared about them and everyone had already counted them out. That is what makes their win so impressive. The odds they faced were not against a significantly superior team, but against the internal and external attitudes. They had played RMC tough in both games of the regular season.
The question was whether they were willing to look past the internal stuff, ignore the external stuff and begin a brand new season. In sports there are at least two seasons and often three. There is the regular season, the conference or league tournament and finally the state or national tournament. And as these new seasons begin, the prognosticators conduct a thorough review of the prior season(s) to determine the potential outcome of the upcoming season. And while that may be helpful in some situations, normally it only provides for good water-cooler or lunch room talk. Athletes and coaches need to learn how to close their ears to all the talk and hype and focus on the ”new” season. Or as the scriptures say, “forgetting what is behind.. and pressing on…”
According to Coach Griffin, he and the team had a really good feeling going into the game. They had a good week of practice leading up to the tournament. They aired out some of the internal stuff that was weighing them down. They didn’t take personally the lack of attention on them due to the guys success. And they didn’t acknowledge the proverbial “monkey” on their back from the last three first-round losses in Salem. They played with a fresh start, a new purpose and for each other. And what a game it was. They several opportunities to falter or fold as had become their pattern in the final three games of the season. But they responded positively and took on an attitude of confidence which turned the unconfident feelings to the opponent.
And so while the hype still remains with the men’s team(rightfully so), the women have just as much of an opportunity to become ODAC champions as the men. They will take a very different path to get there, but what a significant learning event this could be if EMU had two ODAC champion basketball teams – one coming from the top seed and one coming from the seventh seed!!!! If that happens, then I am the one with “egg on my face” because I submitted bids to host the first and second, as well as sectional rounds of the NCAA men’s tournament, but not the women’s!!. I would have thought that after nearly 30 years of involvement with athletics, I might have learned this lesson. But that is the beauty of sports. There is always another situation that provides players, coaches and fans with the opportunity to develop life lessons. So what thrills me the most about the women’s victory on Thursday is that the memory of this experience is etched on the lives of these young ladies and will come back to serve them well in 20 years when they face similar situations.
I hope to post another blog at the end of the ODAC basketball tournament, however if we do receive the bid to host any of the NCAA tournament (men or women), next week will be extremely busy. The DIII brackets will be released on Monday morning at 10am(men) and 10:30(women). FYI – the women will need to won the ODAC championship to get the AQ(automatic qualifier) into the tournament. We have every reason to believe that the men will be selected for the NCAA tournament even if they don’t win the ODAC, but nothing is certain until the brackets are set. They are currently #1 in the south region with with the final rankings coming out on Sunday. Stay tuned.