NORMAL – When covering local athletic teams, it’s easy to see the big picture.
Did the team win or lose? Who scored the game-winning points? Who had a bad game to cause the team to lose? Those are the nuts and bolts of a game story that readers digest the morning after us newspaper sports-types cover an event.
But here’s a small look behind the scenes this week while covering the Prophetstown girls basketball team:
The Prophets earned their first-ever trip to the state tournament by beating El Paso-Gridley 58-48 at the Monmounth Supersectional a week ago today. OK, I learned the Prophets are good at basketball, and they’re fundamentally sound.
Head coach Don Robinson was overjoyed with the win, as it sealed a trip to the state tournament, his first in 37 years on the job. He was so happy he could barely speak without his voice cracking.
I talked to three of his players – Shelby Adams, Clare Kramer and Corrie Reiley – and got the impression they could have talked all night about the big win. It’s easy for players to talk about wins.
Teams that qualify for a state tournament in the Sauk Valley Media coverage area are recipients of baseball-style cards that run prior to the tournament. For Prophetstown, that meant going to the school before practice last Wednesday.
Players put on their uniforms, got their pictures taken by photo editor Alex T. Paschal, and filled out a questionnaire.
I was in charge of the questionnaire part. I handed each player a sheet of paper, and each said thank you. Then I handed each player a pen, and each said thank you again. Every single one of them did that.
Yeah, I know it’s not a huge deal, but I try to notice the little things. I came away thinking this was a fine group of young ladies.
On Saturday, I ventured down to Normal for more Prophetstown coverage. As the Prophets had won their semifinal on Friday night, that meant they were in the championship game, against Champaign St. Thomas More.
It did not go well. The Prophets were overwhelmed in all phases of the game by the Sabers, who won a 70-34 decision.
Afterward, it was time to put on my reporter’s cap and talk to people about the game. These don’t always go well, and I understand it’s not always easy to talk after a difficult loss.
Not surprisingly, however, the Prophetstown crew handled everything well. After his team received its second-place trophy and medals, Robinson faced a small media horde in Redbird Arena.
He did his best to smile for television cameras, and patiently answered questions from a handful of reporters. When it was my turn, he greeted me with a warm, “Brian, how are you doing?”
Later, I talked to Kramer, and then Reiley. They both heaped praise on the St. Thomas More team, and spoke about what a great ride it was for the Prophets to make it to the title game. They couldn’t have been more graceful in defeat.
My last question to Kramer was about Robinson, and helping him get to state, and a broad smile came across her face.
“To be here for Coach Robinson, being his first team to get to state, it feels awesome,” Kramer said.
Robinson stayed true to what got his team to the finals. Instead of conjuring up a gimmick defense to attempt to slow down the Sabers and their superstar sophomore center, Tori McCoy, the Prophets played man-to-man, as they had all season, though they later played some zone.
Offensively, Prophets-town was held in check all night. It made just 10 of its 51 shots, including a 4-for-25 night from 3-point land, against a stifling St. Thomas More defense.
“You know what, if we just could have hit some shots early...” Robinson said. “Our confidence got a little shook when they didn’t fall.”
It added up to defeat, but Prophetstown even did that the right way.
“I wanted them to go out and give it all they had with honor and glory, and play with class, and do the right thing,” Robinson said. “In those ways, we were top notch.”