The losses linger longer
The tears streaking down her cheeks as senior Laura Hughes walked off the court last Saturday were unmistakable.
They were the final punctuation mark on last Saturday’s 61-57 Big Sky Conference loss to North Dakota at Reese Court as the Eagle women closed out their home schedule. North Dakota pried away a victory scoring the game’s final seven points.
At stake was the slim possibility that Eastern might be able to win the conference championship they were predicted to capture in preseason polls and host the postseason tournament.
Meanwhile, in freezing cold Grand Forks where the thermometer was in single digits, shock was the emotion and disbelief the look when North Dakota’s Troy Huff scored a rebound basket at the buzzer to beat the Eagle men 69-67.
For the Eastern men, they were moments away, perhaps, from a win that would have delivered them their first Big Sky road sweep in a decade. “I wish we could have gotten it to overtime because I thought we had grabbed momentum,” head coach Jim Hayford said.
A win for the men would have further solidified what is still their quicksand-like status when it comes to the postseason. Top to bottom 10 of 11 Big Sky teams are separated by just five games with little settled.
But it will all shake out when Eastern’s basketball teams switch places to close out their respective conference schedules, the men at home Thursday versus Idaho State and Saturday hosting Weber State. The EWU women travel to meet the same teams.
“For Laura (Hughes) and Aubrey (Ashenfelter), they’re seniors, and you want that last memory on that court to be positive, so that’s what really difficult,” EWU women’s coach Wendy Schuller said.
“All that being said, part of what we talk about is there’s more basketball to be played and learn from it, we have to move forward,” Schuller said. “It stinks, it’s awful, but it’s also not the end of the world.”
No, not at all, especially when the Eastern campus had just tragically lost two students — Nancy Zepeda Zarate and Ashley Gonzales — in a car crash near Colfax, Feb. 21.
So what’s the message a coach delivers in somber locker rooms? Well, they vary.
“After that game it’s hard because I could see that we were playing so hard,” Schuller said. “We were expending energy and giving what we had.”
But the mother of three young children didn’t help wipe away tears, dishing out tough love, instead.
“There are coaches out there that put on an act,” Schuller explained. “I’m probably a little more blunt and honest than most in terms of I just tell them what I feel, what I think.”
After that game she told her team they played hard to win, “But we didn’t play well,” especially down the stretch. “We didn’t show up for 12 minutes,”
As for Hayford, inside the Betty Englestadt Sioux Center getting ready to finally get home after a crazy week spent in the air, at airports and on busses, he shouldered some blame, and issued a challenge.
“I tell them that the way this can make us each better is if we each think of a way — starting with me and how I could have coached better — and each of them could have made one more play that we lost in a one-possession game,” Hayford said. ”Where could I have made the difference?”
Travel, Hayford, said was maybe a factor during an eight-day span where the Eagles went 2-2, winning twice on the road.
“Just the nature of anyone who does that much traveling; our week last week we went to Las Vegas, three-hour bus ride, play, head back (to Cheney), play, Denver, drive to Greeley, play, wake up, drive to Denver, fly to Minneapolis and Grand Forks, play,” Hayford said describing a whirlwind week that began with a game Feb. 22 at Southern Utah and finished March 1 in Grand Forks.
For Schuller, who had the opposite schedule, playing three at home with a quick trip — and an exciting win at Portland State she admits maybe gives her a few more grey hairs — it will be that last loss that lingers.
“I’ve learned over time how much worse losing is,” Schuller said. “It hurts more to lose than it feels good to win,” she added, saying that’s common among a lot of coaches. “Google that and you’ll see.”
Wins are often quickly forgotten.
Case in point, Aubrey Ashenfelter blocked a Portland State shot in that Feb. 24 road game, then grabbed the loose ball and scored the winning points in a 61-60 victory. Those heroics were quickly forgotten, Schuller said. “But you miss a shot or somebody makes a shot against you and that will haunt them in dreams at night.”
For Hayford, “There’s nothing more special than a road win and conversely there’s nothing that hurts more than a home loss,” Hayford said. “Because you’re trying to build home court advantage, reward the fan base you are trying to build with, if you come and cheer us on we’ll give you a win.”
“I think every coach spells happiness “road win” just because there’s so much adversity against you,” Hayford said.
“Winning makes it all easier.”
Paul Delaney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.