Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Crusaders qualify for the playoffs...again (The #4 event of 2005)

Since joining the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association in 1991, the SLA girls basketball team had struggled through 12 seasons without a winning record (and just one .500 campaign--a 9-9 record in 1993-94) before qualifying for the District playoffs for the first time with a 12-9 record in 2004.

In 2004-05, the Crusaders made it two straight playoff appearances, finishing tied for eighth in the district with a 13-8 mark. It was only the second time an SLA basketball team had qualified in consecutive years, the other being three straight appearances for the boys' team from 1995-98.

We started slowly and had a difficult time assimilating seven new players into our system, limping to a 1-5 mark after the first six games. But once the players became more comfortable with each other, the wins kept coming, as we finished the season winning 12 of the last 14, before bowing to a high-powered Hopedale squad in the first round of the playoffs.

I was as proud of the 2005 team as I was of the team the year before that had broken the losing streak. When I returned to coach the team in 2002, I told the girls that I hoped to create program that could play at a high level and that could sustain that level of success. When we won our 10th game in 2004, it was one of the proudest moments I've had as a coach. It meant everything to me that the team and the school had achieved a level of respect in the athletic community that it never had. Simply put, no one could call SLA losers anymore. Qualifying for the playoffs for a second consecutive year was just as fulfilling, as it meant that we could sustain success, and had build a program that could compete on a regular basis.

While we have struggled to make up for the losses of our two all-time leading scorers (Jill Linthwaite and A'Lisa Lashley) and a player (Amber Jones) who would have easily broken their records had she returned for her Junior and Senior years, the program has continued forward. In the spring, SLA joined six other Christian and Charter schools to form the Worcester County Athletic Conference. After 14 seasons as an independent, SLA finally has a conference affiliation. Being a member of a conference of schools of similar size and philosophy will give our students an opportunity to compete against other players of equal skill, make scheduling opponents and administering the program easier and more efficient, and help keep the program competitive in the future.
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