MONMOUTH – Amid the orange-clad madness that had enveloped Glennie Gymnasium on the campus of Monmouth College on Monday night, Erie-Prophetstown assistant track coach Liz Green sauntered up to Don Robinson with a smile and said, "We only had six girls at practice today. We won't even have that many on Friday."
Robinson is an accomplished track and field coach for the E-P Panthers, but girls basketball is what brought him to tears in the aftermath of the Class 1A Monmouth Supersectional. The Prophets earned their first trip to the state tournament with a 58-48 win against El Paso-Gridley, and Robinson had a hard time talking about it.
He's in his 37th year of guiding the Prophets, with a career record of 673-318. He's had many good teams that have done some damage in the postseason, but until Monday night, none had done what the 2013-14 Prophets did.
"To be honest, I'm proud of every girl that's gone through this program," Robinson said, his voice cracking with every word. "They set the foundation for what we tried to do. I said to [my wife] Debbie, 'If I can't do it the right way, being positive, I don't care if I ever go.' I want to do it the right way, and we did it with class."
Robinson has experienced state tournaments before. He led his high school boys basketball team, Thomson, to the state tournament in 1972.
A year ago, he coached Erie-Prophetstown to second place at the 1A girls track meet.
Taking a basketball team to state as a coach, however, is something that had eluded him.
"You wonder if you're doing the right stuff or if you've got what it takes," Robinson said. "I had self doubts a lot of the times."
Through all the wins and losses, Robinson remained true to his program, and positive at all times. When players missed shots, he praised the attempt taken. When players threw the ball away, he wouldn't yell, but instruct on how to not do it again.
Robinson made a habit of attending girls state basketball tournaments, painful as it was to not be competing. He studied those teams and coaches, and what made them successful.
"I learned a lot just from going to state all these years," Robinson said. "I have a lot of people to thank."
After each game, Robinson gathers his team in a circle, and they have sayings they recite. The first, and perhaps most telling, is, "It's amazing how much can be accomplished when no one cares who gets the credit."
Statistics seem to mean little to this Prophetstown group. Corrie Reiley is often the team's top offensive threat, with a killer first-step move and accurate long-range shot. On Monday, she attempted just four shots, to devote her energy to chasing El Paso-Gridley star Rebekah Ehresman.
Reiley did so without complaint, and was quick to credit teammates for their defensive effort. It's a lesson she learned from Robinson, who is all about team.