Wrapping Up The Comeback Season

1 03 2011

The end of the Coe men’s basketball season also meant a long night for Sam.

Finally, sometime around 11:30 p.m. last Thursday, the 8-year-old ballboy/waterboy for the Kohawks finally went to sleep, two hours after Coe’s 55-51 loss to Dubuque in the IIAC Semifinals.

I had prepared Sam for this possibility on the drive down. Dubuque had been playing some of the better basketball in the Iowa Conference, especially against Coe. Coe came in as the 2-seed, Dubuque the 3-seed. Yet I knew this showdown would be a tree stumping-pulling contest. A showdown the Kohawks may not get out of with a trip to the finals.

Coe’s final record checked in at 17-10 (10-6 IIAC), a remarkable upswing from the 4-win season of the 2009-2010 season that was Sam’s introduction to the program.

The disappointment of Thursday’s loss is starting to fade away with Sam as he shifts into baseball season and all of the time that brings. Yet, once summer comes, Sam will be ready to return to Eby for another round, another tour of the quirky Iowa Conference.

******

Sam was excited for the season opener. He doesn't get to work too many rooms with actual seats.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010.

The first “official” test for the Kohawks with a trip to Northern Iowa. Of course, UNI had knocked off UNLV and Kansas just seven months before. Their standout seniors were gone but a Division I program is a Division I program.

As excited as Sam was to take to the McLeod Center for to chase down the basketballs and get the water out, some of the Kohawks also seemed a bit excited for the start.

Except for Borno. Senior Dan Borngraeber squeaked in Coe’s first basket and clapped his hands on the way back down court. Yet the scores didn’t come easily until the very end. UNI won 84-45 and the Kohawk coaches expressed their frustration after the game, especially coming off Coe’s strong exhibition showing at Northern Illinois earlier in the month.

Sam and I spent the 60-mile drive back from Cedar Falls to Cedar Rapids talking about how Coe was going to be better this year. Definitely better than four wins. “15 wins would be a very good improvement,” I told the drowsy Sam sometime around 10:30 p.m. Sam wanted the Kohawks to win 20.

******

“Uh, oh,” I mumbled to Sam a week later.

Coe had just called a timeout in their road game at Mount Mercy. The Mustangs had put up the first 10 points.

“It’ll be okay, Sam,” I sighed. “They’ll come back.” I was trying to convince myself the Kohawks really would win at Mount Mercy, a program that is in the NAIA and does offer scholarships for basketball.

Tatman rises up. That got a rise out of Sam.


Only Coe did. Now confident that Sam could do the job without Dad hovering, I walked to the far end of the court so Sam could dish out the water.

The new players (freshman Nathan Joens and Andrew Wirth) earned solid minutes and left behind some much-needed toughness to a program that couldn’t close out the victories the year before. Coe hit threes. Coe blocked shots. Coe escaped with a 73-68 win. This would be a different season.

Sam rolled into the locker room to offer his congratulations. Yes, buddy, this is what a winning basketball team looks like.

Because of the spread out nature of the Iowa Conference and my own unusual schedule of nights and weekends, Sam and I spent a few nights, with dozens of other people around the world, watching streaming cameras from all over the state.

We watched Coe hang on to win at Buena Vista, a place where the Kohawks never win, by a single point. (Exhale at the buzzer). Saw the win at Dubuque. Saw the Kohawks blow at Central, another PWTKNV (like Buena Vista – I like acronyms).

The next road game we actually got to attend was the game I later dubbed “Monday Night Raw”. Coe at Cornell. Another weak start as Cornell jumped up by 13 points. But like Andy Dufresne, the Kohawks just chipped away at the wall, letting pressure over time do its thing. Alex Tatman hit from the outside. Seth Light and Kevin Gaster found their grooves inside. Coe then led by a dozen.

Of course, it wouldn’t be THAT easy for the Kohawks. The Rams battled back and, with 30 seconds left, Cornell had the ball, with Coe leading 58-57. Cornell got five shots off. None of them went in.

Again, this was another game Coe would have probably lost in 2009-2010.

*******

I can’t say enough about the seniors.

Five young men are now leaving behind organized basketball – with uniforms, referees and fans – for good. Guys like Dan Borngraeber, Fred Rose, Dan Onorato, Joe Parys and Alex Tatman have probably spent the last eight or nine years going to practice and sharpening their game.

After battling tall guys, Borno always came down to Sam's level to say thanks.


I am honored to acknowledge just how kind these five have been to Sam.

My only advice this year to Sam was the same as the year before. “Try and get them their water within five seconds of them sitting down”. Again, he did a pretty good job of that.

After nearly every game Sam was at (all of the home games plus a couple roadies), the players – especially these seniors who battled through a four-win campaign the previous year – were always gracious to an 8-year-old boy who loves being around college basketball.

Amid the winning, I also tried to stress to Sam the importance of being a “team player”. Some of these seniors saw their minutes fade as the younger players gobbled up more floor time. Yet a critical point to the season was watching some of these seniors truly support the mission, even if their points were not the difference on the floor.

Best part for this week is that Coe Basketball isn’t finished just yet. The women are in the business of “survive and advance” now, even hosting the four-team opening round this weekend. Instead of chasing basketballs and handing out water, Sam will look to be in the stands on Friday night for Coe’s game against Minnesota-Morris.

Hopefully, Sam will get to see “his” team one more time before the summer hits and these outstanding young men start the new phase of their lives. As always, thanks, Kohawks.

A delightful season ends. A new addition: Katie now as the regular halftime entertainment.

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