MUNSTER | It isn't just how you finish. Hardly. Winners come in many shapes and sizes. And they are not always on the “right” side of the scoreboard.
Take the 2012-13 Munster Mustangs, for example.
Regardless of the press clippings or the thoughts of those in the bleachers, this team defines being a winner. Period.
When practice started in late October, coach Matt Backs had six known varsity players. Injuries and departures for club this and that took several athletes off the roster.
Unless you're playing 3-on-3, how can you run a practice?
Senior Anika Gasich tore her ACL and was gone. Freshman Juliana Watson got a concussion early. Senior Jennifer Allen had shin splints so severe that she had to ice her legs the first 30 minutes of practice.
Sophomore point guard Jordan Cole struggled with a bum ankle all season. Backs said it was pure guts that kept her on the floor on Tuesday night.
Why didn't Backs and his players just hang a sign in the gym that read, “Gone Fishing”? Many would've.
But here these Mustangs were, fighting in the fourth quarter of the Class 4A Munster Sectional against last year's champs, E.C. Central. On multiple possessions, a basket would've made it a one-possession game.
Instead, E.C.'s superior talent forced a 56-44 win.
“We never quit,” said Allen, her eyes as red as her sweat-soaked uniform. “We never gave up.”
“We're a young team,” senior Bernadette Grabowski added, sharing the same shade of red in her eyes. “We knew we had to work hard. We knew we had to be positive.”
Talk about never giving up. Munster trailed the Cardinals by 10 in the first half. A solid half-court offense started clicking. Munster led by a point at the half.
“To our girls credit, every game they showed flashes of good stuff,” Backs said, also with red in his eyes. “Many people count success with wins or how a team does in winning a sectional. But these girls … they just get me in my heart strings.”
Backs had to walk away to gather his composure. That's what this five-win team did to their coach.
The seniors should put this season on their resume. Especially if they plan on taking any leadership courses in college.
It's easy to lead when the scoreboard is in your favor. It takes something else getting on a bus for a road-trip with a five-game losing streak.
“We knew it wouldn't happen overnight,” said Allen, who had two assists and three rebounds against E.C. “Going into the season we knew we wouldn't be the best at first. We knew it would take some time.”
Allen plans on playing college basketball next year. She's just waiting for the correct suitor.
“We're real young, have been all year,” said Grabowski, who scored 14 points with nine rebounds and five steals.
Grabowski is being recruited by Bethel, IUN and Concordia.
Both of these girls could be professors one day.
They shared what they will tell the rest of the Munster players in the team's final post-game huddle in the locker room.
The Mustangs had seven freshmen, four sophomores and two juniors on their sectional roster.
“I'm going to tell them to always keep your head up,” Allen said. “To give 110 percent all the time. If they do that, I believe they will, they will turn this around.”
Grabowski did the same.
“They have to go to every practice determined to get better,” she said. “That's what we did this year.”
The scoreboard said that Central won the game, which they did. But Munster's Mustangs have nothing to hang their heads about.
They left everything on the floor.
Yes, that's a cliché. But the kind of cliché that will change the world.
This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.