SPRINGFIELD TWP. Expectations are different for the Springfield Spartans.
The results, gradually, are beginning to follow those elevated expectations. Through nine games, the Spartans are 3-6 and 2-4 in Portage Trail Conference play and while those win totals already outpace their tallies from the entire 2017-18 campaign, veteran head coach Tim Cole sees a belief in his team that there is more to come.
That attitude was highlighted in a 77-68 rivalry game loss last week to Coventry, a game the Spartans led by eight points at the half, only to see Coventry rally behind a barrage of 3-pointers that included seven makes from behind the arc in the third quarter alone.
“I thought we played really well … we scored 34 points in both halves …I thought we played hard on defense and I thought we played well on defense. We came out and played man to man the entire second half,” Cole said.
As the game came to an end, it was clear that the Spartans weren’t hanging their heads or accepting the defeat as simply the way things for the program. Cole noted that with the exception of one game so far this season, all of Springfield’s matchups have been close.
The feeling this year is that close isn’t enough, but falling just short also isn’t a reason to despair.
“I told the kids in the locker room that you have to be mature enough that when you play really well and you go get wins to be happy about it, then come in the next day and go get better,” Cole said. “The kids were prepared for Coventry and we played well, but I also told them you have to be mature enough that when the other team plays absolutely lights out, to tip your had to them and tell them, ‘Good job.’”
That sort of loss, which saw Springfield still ahead in the early moments of the third quarter, can sting a team and leave it with a bit of a hangover in the days and games that follow. Cole admitted that a couple of years ago, the Spartans may have let that kind of loss linger and haunt them.
In what he sees as a sign of growth and maturity, this year’s edition of the Spartans hasn’t carried the ghosts of previous losses with them and as a result, Springfield has done a better job of playing in the moment. Likewise, when they win, they have been able to enjoy it when it happens, but not spend too much time after the fact patting themselves on the back.
“A couple years ago, we might have hung onto that,” Cole said of the Coventry loss. “For sure, we lived and died with every moment and hung on every game a couple of years ago. If we played well and had a loss, it would kill us in the next game and if we played well and had a win, we really had to find a way to make sure the guys showed up ready to play (in the next game).”
The shift in mindset has taken time and it has come from substantial investments in the program by the upperclassmen who are helping lead the team this season. Seniors such as Zach Ickes and Andrew Smith are, in Cole’s estimation the emotional sparks for the squad. Their on-court energy and emotion are evident in the way they react to both good plays and frustrating moments, while a player who’s less demonstrative but equally important has become a focal point for the offense.
Senior forward Shae Moles, who scored 23 points in the Coventry loss, is a lanky, versatile player who doesn’t immediately stand out on the court, but whose impact reaches most every area of the game.
“Shea does everything well. When you go and watch him play, there’s nothing he does where you say, ‘He’s the best on the floor,’ but when you look at his game, there’s nothing he doesn’t do well,” Cole said. “He hustles, he defends, he plays in the post, he can play on the perimeter and he handles the ball and makes shots. He rebounds and defends.”
Smith was the team’s leading scorer last season, but has dropped to fourth this season as opponents have zeroed in on him and made other players step up for Springfield. One play early in the Coventry game saw Smith with the ball on a breakaway and a clear path to the basket, only to give the ball up to a younger teammates to allow that teammate to score and gain confidence.
It’s an unselfish attitude the coaching staff has reinforced over the past few months and one they’re seeing the team embrace, sharing credit when things go well and accepting responsibility as a group when the outcome isn’t a win.
With more than half of the season still to go, there are quite a few chances to continue improving upon last season’s win total. Just know that wherever they end up, these Spartans will expect that they are capable of continuing their growth and doing even better the next time out.
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
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