NCC 89- NORTH PARK 91
ONU 113- ST. FRANCIS 102
It was Senior Day at ONU, and with an early1 p.m. start time I thought it would be a nice idea to drop by on my way out of town to catch the game. Calling Brooke Peterson, a local high school coach who is also one of my former Olivet players and assistant coaches, I asked if she'd like to meet me at the game. "Sure! I'd love to do that Coach Porter!" she said, "and Lauren invited me to speak to the team before the game, so you need to come to the locker with me!" (Brooke is 26, and still feels uncomfortable calling me by my first name.) "But," she said, "You have to speak to the team after me."
So that was the plan and Brooke gave a beautiful pregame talk, reminding me of how proud I am of her, and how much she's grown up since she came to ONU eight years ago as a shy freshman. Now she's a confident English teacher and carries herself with a cheerful dignity. Any coach knows that the real joy of coaching is seeing your players grow up before your very eyes. Brooke is Exhibit A in that category.
In my brief greeting to the team, I commented about the tradition at ONU, pointing to the fifteen team photos that ring the wall of the locker room, one from each of my years (plus this year's photo from Lauren's first year as head coach).
"Many of these players are just faces to you," I said. "But each one has a history, and a legacy. What is your legacy? What does it mean to play TigerBall? It means that you put aside personal ambitions and play together for the good of the team. It means to just do your job."
"Sandy," I pointed to one of the seniors, a 6-1 safety, "I remember when you were a freshman and came in extra, working so hard to perfect your perimeter shot because you'd never taken a three in high school. Now look at you, leading the team in 3FG percentage. Why? Because you only shoot when you are totally wide open! You are our best shot blocker and best rebounder, and you are great at that, and you stick to what you do best, which is not taking ten threes a game!"
There were lots of laughs and nods, because the players know. Everyone gets a chance in TigerBall, but that doesn't mean everyone is the same. Do what you do well. Do your job.
I had to leave with 10 minutes to play in ONUs 113-102 victory, with the Tigers holding a comfortable seven point lead. I saw later fromt he box score that Sandy finished with six rebounds and three blocks in 14 minutes. She only missed one three, and was smart enough to finish 0-1 from the arc. She did her job.
It was Senior Day at NCC, and I enjoyed standing quietly in the locker room as Michelle spoke to the team. The joy of being an assistant is that there is no pressure, no history, no expectations other than to fill my role in advising the head coach as opportunities arise. No team pictures ring the walls of the Cardinal's locker room, but they are nevertheless a team hopeful of starting a tradition. After winning just one conference game last year, a win today will almost assure a berth in the CCIW tournament. I'm proud to have helped them along towards that goal.
There were lots of laughs and nods as Michelle spoke. With our shorthanded roster, we had to rely more than ever on Sophie, one of the seniors, a 5-7 safety. Sophie will never block a shot, but this day she drew three charges, as usual. She had fourteen points and made 2-5 threes, because she is a good three point shooter. And she led us in scoring. She played her role to perfection. She did her job.
In the end, with 11 seconds to play and us down one, Sophie made the first free throw of a two shot foul to tie the game. She missed the second. With one second, North Park hit the game winner.
After the game, I put a hand on Sophie's shoulder and quietly reminded her, "Don't lose any sleep about that second free throw. We wouldn't have had the chance to win had it not been for you. You played a great game, and should be proud of the way you conducted yourself."
That was my speech at NCC. That was my role. Sophie did her job. Sandy did her job. The Cardinals didn't catch the breaks at the end today. We had cake after the game... it still tasted pretty good.
We go to Millikin on Tuesday for another chance to make the tournament. We'll get 'em next time.