One by one, Greenwood Christian Academy basketball players came out of their locker room with tears in their eyes following Saturday’s Class A sectional final at Edinburgh.
The expressions of emotion were much more than the disappointment the players and coaches felt about dropping a 77-43 decision to Lutheran and failing to repeat as sectional champion. Following a stellar performance the night before in beating Morristown 80-69, the result was hard to take, but the tears were shed as players came to grips with the conclusion of the season and the end of the high school careers for five seniors.
Coach Jamie Satre’s eyes were just as red as those of the players, and he struggled for words in trying to put collective feelings into words.
“We preach family, and if anybody is a part of our program, it’s bigger than just one or two people,” Satre said. “The seniors are a huge part of that and every year, and it kills us to see guys leave.
“There’s so much community not only in our team, but in our school.”
That sense of community was on display as many Creenwood Christian students, as well as parents, waited outside the locker room, consoling each of the players — especially the seniors — with hugs and words of encouragement.
Cougars fans filled more than half of the Edinburgh gym both Friday and Saturday. While they were vocal again for the final, the result prevented Saturday from being a celebratory occasion.
Lutheran raced to a 21-7 lead after one quarter. The physically imposing Saints, who go 6-foot-8, 6-5 and 6-3 in the frontcourt, kept getting the ball inside for high quality shots and in the first half, and sank 15 of 30 field goal attempts compared to just five of 22 for the Cougars.
The big rebounding advantage the Cougars had enjoyed in their opening two games was not to be found Saturday, as Lutheran had a 37-27 margin on the boards.
Greenwood Christian kept battling despite being down 42-18 at halftime. But the Saints never looked like a team that might fall victim to a big comeback, as they continued to work the ball inside to 6-8 center Blake Soberialski, who scored 19 points. Forward Tyler Johnson also scored 19 for Lutheran, mostly from close range, with 6-3 Shane Miller adding 12.
Satre credited Lutheran’s performance, not any Cougars’ deficiency, for the outcome.
“Their size definitely hurt us. They did some things we didn’t have a lot of answers for,” Satre said. “We had a game plan, but sometimes it doesn’t work out.
“They’re a good team, and they definitely did a lot of good things out there.”
But recognizing Lutheran’s solid play didn’t lessen the sense of finality for GCA seniors Mark Gibson, Colin Giebler, Noah Shingleton, Braden Murray and Alec Brown were feeling afterward. Senior Noah Shingleton, who was so instrumental in the team’s semifinal win on Friday, said the night marked the end of five years together with his teammates.
“We all came together in eighth grade. We’ve been really tight and close like brothers ever since,” Shingleton said. “That’s the worst part of losing tonight is to know I won’t play with them again, and everyone in the younger grades as well.
There are some people you lose touch with after high school but I think I’ll always be close to these guys.”
Brown said the Cougars used family as a theme for the season, shouting it out whenever they broke a huddle in practice or in games.
The idea is far more than a cliché or a motivational ploy, Brown said.
“We want to be more than just teammates. You see teams where the guys don’t get along, but we want to do better than that,” Brown said. “It’s not just a bond with basketball but a bond that continues for the rest of our lives.
“You see alumni coming back and supporting the team and that’s how it is at GCA. It’s more than just a team, it’s a family.”
Brown said the attitude prevailed within the team even as the Cougars (9-16) struggled at times on the court during the season.
“We took our lumps during the season, but we never got down.,” he said. “We stayed together and kept our goals in mind, which was to make a run in the sectional.
“Even though we didn’t end up winning the final, we gave it everything we had.”
“We truly do have a brotherhood,” he said. “Even if the scoreboard told us to give up (Saturday), we never did. Most teams would just roll over and die, but we kept fighting and fighting.”