NORMAL – Between them, Prophetstown coach Don Robinson and Eastland coach Colleen Finn-Henze have led their teams to 1,133 girls basketball victories.
They have now coached in a combined two games at the state tournament.
While the outcomes were very different, both coaches were positively impacted by their inaugural coaching stints on the big stage.
"I finally started to relax a little [Friday]; I was so worried Thursday that I'd goof something up," Robinson said. "It's just so special to be here, and seeing the girls' reactions to all of this is just so rewarding."
Robinson had plenty of reason to smile, after his Prophets advanced to the 2A state title game with a 57-48 victory that wasn't even that close for most of the second half.
A frequent spectator through the years at Redbird Arena, having former high school teammates and Propehtstown alumni on hand watching his team was something he could barely put into words.
"I told the girls, I've been to the state track meet 36 times, so I know what's going on in terms of the big stage," he said with a laugh. "But soaking this all up, it's just such an amazing experience for all of us."
Finn-Henze, on the other hand, had her initial excitement dampened somewhat, as the Cougars ran into a phenomenal Annawan team in a turnover-filled 71-45 loss.
"If you asked me how I liked the state tournament at a different time, I'd have a better answer," Finn-Henze joked during her postgame press conference.
But after her tongue-in-cheek response to lighten the mood in the press room, the 23-year veteran was more diplomatic.
"I'd say the atmosphere and the stage are awesome," she said. "Even without getting the chance to be state champions now, I think we're all soaking this up.
"What little advice you get coming in here is to take it in, because it goes by so fast. I think the girls and I are going to do that as much as we can [Saturday]."
With games to play Saturday, both coaches were unsurprisingly more focused on learning as much as they can about their next opponent than basking in the glow of the bright lights.
But that didn't stop them from encouraging their players to stop and smell the roses, as it were ... and then following their own advice.
"We're going to enjoy this for a while before we start looking ahead to [Saturday's] championship game," Robinson said with a smile. "Then, when it's all over, we're going to look back and enjoy it even more."