Success In Carbondale

April 11, 2005


It’s been three days since my last post. So I’ve been a very naughty boy. I have not had a chance to blog since Friday. Dana and I spent all weekend in Carbondale, Ill. But we were at a Motel 6 w/o any connectivity. Worse still, I couldn’t find free WiFi access anywhere. I am sure that if I cruised through Carbondale with NetStumbler going, I would have found something. But there just wasn’t any time.

So why was I in Carbondale? My daughter Dana was involved in an AAU basketball tournament. The winner of the tournament got an automatic berth to the AAU Nationals (to be held in Orlando this summer). So Dana and I headed out from Kansas City on Friday afternoon. She drove for 6.5 hours and we made it into Carbondale while there was still fading daylight.

The campus at Southern Illinois is great. The gyms were nice with a few minor challenges (like ventilation and clocks). The competition was pretty fierce. We were in the 16U brackets. There were five teams in the bracket. So Saturday was pool play. Our girls played an Illinois team (the Titans), a central Missouri team (the Lady Jazz), and an Indiana team (the Elite). We went 2-1 on Saturday. The Titans put up a good challenge, but fell flat in the second half. The Lady Jazz rallied from a first-half deficit to squeak out a narrow win. And the Elite fought hard until the very end. So Saturday was a good chance to focus on teamwork and trust. The more games these girls play together, the better they are becoming!

When Dana and I got up on Sunday, we were greeted with the news that our final pool play game had been cancelled. We were set to play the Kansas Belles at 10:00. But since the result was only going to determine which of the two would have home court advantage at 1:00, both teams decided to bypass the final pool play game.

So we met the Belles in our bracket semi-final. The Belles were also 2-1 from the previous day. Their only loss had come at the hands of the Lady Jazz. So our 1:00 match-up was very telling. At the same time, there were some personal reasons for this game. About half of our team had been on the Belles at one time or another. So we faced off against friends. But that’s the great thing about amateur athletics. It is supposed be friendly competition – and it was. But when the tip-off whistle blew, both teams came out wanting the win.

Dana had a great start but still struggled at the free throw line. She was hitting around 50% from the charity stripe – and she wasn’t happy. But her interior play was strong. And she put the Belles strong post player (Jadhon Kerr) into early foul trouble. Boy, that was tough. We love Jadhon and her parents. But Dana knew she would need to drive on Jadhon. Eventually, Dana fouled her out. But after the game, Jadhon and Dana hugged. And Jadhon’s mom (also named Dana) promised to pray for our game against the Lady Jazz. I love friendly competition – especially between good families!

So the 3:00 championship game was between Team Excel and the Lady Jazz. We had lost to the Jazz just one day earlier. So this was going to be a tough game. And the venue managers didn’t help. They delayed the game until 4:00. In fairness, this was a good decision. It gave both teams a chance to cool off and revitalize. But it put us another hour later. Win or lose, the trip home was going to be very late.

So Dana took the extra time to work on her free throws. And Todd (her coach) was great. He recognized that the trouble was mental and not mechanical. So he told Dana that she wouldn’t be allowed to go through her typical free-throw ritual (three bounces, a head bob and the shot). She would have to step to the line and shoot without thinking. Dana agreed. So the extra few minutes was good for Dana.

Both teams started well. But since this was the championship game, there were some nerves. After all, the winner of this game would earn a berth to the AAU National tournmament. Once the teams got past the jitters, the game got very serious. Dana was relentless in driving to the net. I wasn’t tracking points (since I’m the designated cheerleader – and I can’t see anything anyway). But she went to the charity line three times in the first half and came away with six points. So Dana finished the first half with some unspecified number of points and 100% free throw shooting. At half-time, we were ahead by six points.

At the beginning of the second half, the Jazz keyed on Dana. They double-teamed her. So she went to work on the inside-outside game. They would collapse on her and she would dish it off for an easy score by her teammates. Everyone got in on the act. Shaylyn, Amanda and Taber were dropping in points from the outisde while Marissa and Ashley kept things exciting inside. Even our newcomers (Hadleigh and Kelley) made a big difference. They were able to find (or make) the openings whenever they turned up. It was great to see this “total team effort” from such a young squad! And when our outside shooters got really hot, the Jazz team shifted their defense. So Dana found herself open on the block and really kicked in some points. In the end, we won by almost twenty points. The Jazz were strong, but our girls were even stronger on this day.

So the drive home was great. Everyone was smiling and hugging each other when we left the gym. And winning always makes a six hour drive more bearable. Dana still needed to drink a couple of Amp drinks (caffeine + sugar). But she drove home as well as she drove to the net.

So it’s now “off to nationals” in July. In the meantime, there are a few more tourneys where we can hone our skills and breed confidence in every player. All in all, this was a great weekend for a team that has only played together for three weeks!



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