One game at a time for revamped Mustangs

Mustang basketball

Alex Ballin and Alan Carmichael react during the Mustangs’ victorious home game against Riverside in November.

EMILY HARRELL – Hoof Prints Staff

The senior Mustang basketball team only lost two players last year. With essentially the same team, how can they be having such a drastically different season? Some people give all the glory to the return of Coach Bill Taylor.

“The difference between last year and this year is the energy that we have at practice and during games,” team member Gunnar James said. “We work harder and we have a correcting and reinforcing coach.”

If you ask Coach Taylor however, he has a different answer.

“The players are the ones that are doing this,” Coach Taylor said. “I just think they got tired of losing and saw the change as an opportunity for a fresh start.”

With a team of 22 boys, boasting a record of 23 – 3 ( 14 – 1 in conference), they’ve done a complete 180 from last year. And the fans have responded.

“There are a lot more people coming to the boys games than last year,” cheerleader Valerie Pipkin said. “The fans see how well they are playing and how much they want to win and they want to come support them.”

As most students, teachers, and fans have noticed, the boys have also been acting like a whole new team off the court.

“The guys have been on time, looking like a player, taking things more seriously,” Taylor said.

Coach has not only affected the way the boys look at their responsibilities but also how they look at the team as a whole.

“We build our program on respect,” Coach Taylor said.

Taylor has given the boys a lesson, not necessarily in sportsmanship, but in humility. He wants the team to understand that “no matter who you’re playing, they can beat you.”

“Coach Taylor knows what he’s doing,” team member Alan Carmichael said. “He wants it for us and we want it for him. We’re fighting together as a unit, as a team, and as a family.”

The boys are working hard at practice and playing hard during the games.  All the persistence and dedication is aimed at one thing, the 2A State Tournament. Since the beginning of the year, the understood goal among the team and coaches has been to make it to the state tournament.

The team hasn’t made an appearance at the state tournament since the 2008-09 season, and a new mind set was required to help get them there again.

“We’ve done a real good job of not only playing one game at a time, we literally try to play one quarter at a time,” Coach Taylor said.

“I go into a game thinking about going out there and hitting them in the mouth,” senior ball player, Jacob Sanders, said. “That and winning the first quarter,”

After the 69 – 49 win over Marmaduke on January 28, the team sealed the conference championship and made their road to state a little easier. If a team is first or second in conference they only have to win one game in regionals in order to make it to state.

“I feel that our team has a great chance of making it to state and going deep in the tournament if they play to the best of their abilities,” team manager, Ryan Stuck, said.

While winning state tournament would be amazing, it doesn’t seem to be Taylor’s main goal. Making it to state is a great accomplishment in itself, once a team is there, anything can happen.

“You can’t win it unless you’re in it,” Coach Taylor said.