Learning from losses

Thomas Gallick

Winning may be the ultimate goal of athletes, but losing is the teacher no one can avoid along the road to success.

Maybe that’s why the Kent State women’s basketball team was such a compelling story this season. The Flashes finished this year with a 9-21 conference record, the first time the program has had a losing season since Bob Lindsay’s first year as head coach in the 1989-1990 season.

The bad news started early on in the season with junior guard ChyTearra Kintchen and sophomore guard Jamilah Humes being suspended for the entire season for allegedly receiving a stolen credit card. The team staggered out of the gate in out-of-conference play, winning just three of 12 games, and suffered another blow when junior center Samantha Scull and sophomore guard Kate Verhoff quit.

The bench shrank from 12 in the preseason to eight, so the Flashes entered conference play wounded. Kent State never did release the reason why Scull and Verhoff quit the team, but with the team facing its worst season in almost twenty years, maybe they had the right idea.

Or maybe not.

It was an underdog of a season, no doubt, and one without the security net of a Hollywood-style happy ending. Even if the team pulled together and each individual played her heart out every game, victory was still a long shot in many situations.

With only seven of eight players available due to injuries for most of the season, only two of whom had played for Kent State before this year, and no seniors, the team had to look inward for leadership. In doing so they became possibly the most interesting story in Kent State sports this year.

The Flashes had three players in the top 10 in the minutes per game statistic in the Mid-American Conference. Freshman guard Stephanie Gibson led the team and conference with an average of over 38 minutes per game.

Yet, the team never used fatigue as an excuse at the press conferences. Sure, the players expressed happiness, even joy, when a teammate came back from injury, but Lindsay instilled the kind of no-excuse mentality in his team one just does not see in today’s world of multi-million dollar contracts and athletes willing to throw teammates and coaches under the bus.

The team was ecstatic after wins and often visibly shaken after losses. An outside observer might have wondered why it even mattered in the middle of the season when a losing record was already assured.

Maybe Lindsay had gotten the players to buy into his philosophy, that it was not about the wins and losses but improvement, and they were truly disheartened when the team did not play its best. Maybe they were out to convince themselves that even if they were playing in front of an empty house at the M.A.C. Center (which they often almost were) they would react the same way.

Whatever the reason, the way the team played showed more heart than most professional sports teams. The Flashes, in fact, proved something everyone living in this world eventually realizes: The victories may be sweet, but the losses teach the lessons.

Right now, it seems impossible to predict how the women’s basketball team will play next year, but adversity certainly gives a team something to build on. One thing is sure: The eight players who stuck it out through this season’s hardships probably gained more insight than most collegiate athletes learn in four years.

Anyone can win, anyone can lose.

The real people to admire in sports and life are those who know the odds are stacked against them but still give the same effort they would on a level playing field.

Contact sports reporter Thomas Gallick at [email protected].