SULLIVAN COUNTY, NY — People often seek to understand why things happen the way they do in all areas of life, including sports. The answer may be found among three distinct theories that seek to explain the strange mixture of uplifting and disappointing outcomes. The first points to fate: that everything is pre-ordained and we are merely acting out a script that was already transcribed. To accept this bleak, deterministic view of things implies we are not really in control. Ergo some teams are just “fated” to win, while others are destined to lose.
An opposing idea is that we have free will and it is by our choices and acts that we influence what may or may not happen. Coaches preach this mantra to their teams: that it’s up to them to achieve success by choosing to work collectively and intensely for the common goal. The late iconic UCLA Coach John Wooden never had his team look at film of opponents. He maintained that the only thing that mattered was how well the Bruins executed their game plan. It certainly worked during his tenure, which included 10 national championships. Then there is the issue of randomness: things just happen. Call it luck or the lack of it. A shot goes in, a ball bounces a certain way, a key player fouls out. Sometimes teams are just lucky. While this may all seem strangely metaphysical considering this is a sports column, actually it’s not. To a certain extent all three of these theories interact.
This past week, the Tri-Valley girls basketball team 9-4 (3-2 OCIAA), which had previously suffered only one league loss, an unfortunate 61-56-overtime home defeat to Chester back on December 14, went on the road to take on the Lady Hambletonians 9-3 (6-0 OCIAA), who would remain undefeated in Division V. As the three-time reigning division champs, the Tri-Valley Lady Bears viewed this game as a must-win scenario if they were to retain, at least, a share of the title, as well as a higher seed in the Section 9 Class C sectionals. They implemented a new zone defense in an attempt to deter the interior adept scoring of sophomore Simone Ayers. But despite that new wrinkle, which they soon had to abandon, they ended up losing 58-46 with Chester claiming the division crown. Success is never guaranteed because of past triumphs and, in this case, Chester played far better. It wasn’t luck and it wasn’t fate. Down the line, these teams may meet again in the more meaningful Section 9 playoffs. What went before won’t matter as each team marshals its best to see which prevails and moves on.
While the comparative impact of the aforementioned theories is subject to debate, the notion of change is not. “To everything there is a season,” Ecclesiastes reminds us.
Sullivan West’s boys teams struggled mightily after the success of the good years like 2005 and 2006, but beginning last year and now into this one, the wheel has turned. Dynamic wins last week against once-powerful, now vastly diminished Liberty, to the tune of 81-39, and then a 67-49 victory against a very talented and quick Tri-Valley team that has also turned its success northward of late, evinced the inevitability of change. It is not random. It is forged by a collusion of talent (sometimes that does involve luck of having people in the right place and the right time) and hard word—the will, perseverance and the right kind of mentoring.
The stats: Sullivan West (7-3) downed Tri-Valley 67-49 led by Matt Cardona’s 27 points. The Bears (8-3) will have a rematch with the Westies at this week’s Fifth Annual Sullivan County BCANY versus Cancer Classic Tournament, slated for Sullivan County Community College on February 8-9.
Other games on the docket feature Friday Night clashes between Roscoe and Fallsburg boys and Eldred and Livingston Manor girls. Saturday offers T-V vs SW boys rematch and T-V vs. SW girls. Monticello and Liberty jayvee and varsity will face off. Last year’s tourney raised upwards of $3,000 for the Catskill Regional Oncology Unit. This year’s added games will hopefully add to that total.
Correction: Mitch Paciga’s high jump was 6-3, not 6-4 as reported. It was a personal best but one inch shy of the Section 9 lead.