The pregame speech Prophets-town girls basketball coach Don Robinson might give tonight before the Prophets’ sectional rematch with Aquin is one borne of personal experience.
Every Sunday, Robinson plays cards with his wife and mother-in-law. And, every Sunday, they take him to the cleaners. But yesterday, the longtime coach might have found the key to success in his weekly get-togethers – and it’s one which translates well to his team’s semifinal game at the Class 1A River Ridge Sectional.
“Those two women kick me every Sunday,” Robinson said, “but [this week], we played a short game with only six or seven hands … and I won! I may take that scorecard and use it in pregame.”
The message: Make tonight’s game against the defending 1A state champs as short as possible.
“The secret for us as the year has gone on is to try and get the lead, then win the time of possession,” Robinson said. “Get the lead, then be patient and eat clock, then when we finally get a good shot, take it. When we make it, that’s when we seem to extend the lead, make the other team nervous or put them into a little bit of panic mode.”
Robinson cautions that it’s easier said than done with a team like Aquin. The Bulldogs (27-2) feature a wealth of experience, led by Arizona State-bound Sophie Brunner and heady point guard Haley Chang.
The do-it-all Brunner can score, rebound, pass and play defense, and Chang complements her with as a solid ball-handler and consistent outside threat.
“Sophie does everything, and she has that ability to make her teammates look terrific,” Robinson said. “She defers early to her teammates to get them involved, and then she makes it look so easy when she does take over the game.
“Put her with that point guard, who has been around basketball a lot thanks to her dad coaching the Aquin boys team, and they don’t get shook up too easy when those two are on the floor.”
But experience goes both ways. When the two teams met in last year’s 1A Eastland Sectional final, Prophetstown (27-3) had virtually the same team it does this time around.
Sophomores Corrie Reiley and Clare Kramer have been in the fold all season, and junior Karlie Stafford has developed into the girl who does all the dirty work after winning the fifth starter job at the beginning of the year.
When you include senior standouts Cassie Reiley and Riley Walters and a deep bench featuring the likes of senior Molly Corbin, juniors Brooke Remley and Kaeli Kovarik, and sophomore Cydney Westen, the Prophets have a lot of players with postseason experience.
“Everybody has a valuable part on this team,” Stafford said. “The whole bench has something to bring to the team, and we’ve all played together all year now instead of throwing in some younger girls at the end of the season like last year.
“We all just have to do our parts, communicate on defense and just give it our all. We’ve been looking forward to this game all season, and we don’t want to have any regrets.”
Last year’s 36-24 loss to Aquin has been in the back of the Prophets’ minds ever since last February. Within two points early in the fourth quarter, Prophetstown went cold from the field, and the Bulldogs closed the game with a 10-0 run in arguably their toughest game en route to the state title.
Kramer, who was making just her second varsity start, remembers being as nervous as she’s ever been. This time around, she believes the experience of playing in that atmosphere will be a big help – as will the fan bus Prophetstown will be taking to the game.
“I’m getting really excited for this game, and I think the other girls are, too,” Kramer said. “It was a really good battle last year, and I’m looking forward to playing Sophie again; she’s probably the best player I’ve ever defended, and it’s a challenge to stop her.
“But I think us playing her last year, we’re going to be much better about calming those nerves down. I think we’ll play with a lot more confidence, and it will really be in our favor if we keep the game at our tempo and execute well.”
Whether or not he uses his recent card-playing experience as a pregame pep talk, Robinson knows he won’t have to do a lot of motivating tonight. With his players fired up to avenge last year’s season-ending loss – as well as keep their postseason march going – he’s going to talk about the same things in the locker room he usually talks about.
Play your role, trust your teammates. Run the offense, rotate on defense, take the open shots. Don’t get too high when good things happen, and don’t get too down when Aquin has success. And, above all, stay positive, enjoy the moment and have fun.
“The girls have had this game marked on their calendars for quite a while, thinking, ‘If we could just get back to this game, it’s a fun way to maybe rewrite some things,’ “ Robinson said. “Just like last year, we know we’ll have to play a great game to win, but I believe we’re capable of it.
“The longer we can be in the game, that helps our chances. Then, if we can hit a few big shots, hit a few 3-ball daggers in a close game, get to the free-throw line, maybe they come down and force something. If we can do that, it’ll give us our best chance.”
Class 1A River Ridge Sectional
When: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday
Who: Aquin (27-2), Christian Life (12-10), Prophetstown (27-3), River Ridge-Scales Mound (16-10)
Games: Aquin vs. Prophetstown, 7:30 p.m. today; Christian Life vs. RRSM, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday; winners play for championship at 7:30 p.m. Thursday