Senioritis can hit any team
The Chassell girls basketball team learned about it in their very first game of the season.
The Dollar Bay boys team has seen it lurking twice already in the young season.
What I’m talking about is senioritis: a malady that has struck many athletic teams.
It usually comes about when a mostly senior team in any sport comes into a season with the thought of conference, district and state championships dancing in their heads.
In the case of the Chassell girls squad, the reality of it all was found in an opening game defeat to L’Anse.
In Dollar Bay’s case, there have been two scary wins against Bessemer and Ontonagon in which the Blue Bolts trailed in the fourth quarter.
Now, I’m not saying that both the Panthers and Bolts won’t go on to great success this winter. Both teams have the talent to win any game they play.
While I’ve seen numerous teams with senior talent gone awry, I always go back to the very first time I experienced it.
My team returned seven seniors from a squad that led No. 1-ranked Champion and eventual state Class D runner-up St. Paul in the fourth quarter before losing.
With a front line of 6-foot-4, 6-foot-3 and 6-foot-2, there was plenty of size on a team that played run-and-gun basketball and usually put four players in double figures.
But after a 3-0 start that included a win over Champion that ended its 34-game home court win streak, we prepared for the White Pine Holiday Tournament over the Christmas break.
We faced the host team first, a squad that was paced by an Ed Helakoski product by the name of Martin Robertson.
Robertson, a 6-4 forward with stellar overall skills, did us in that night. He remains one of the most underrated players I’ve seen over the years.
That defeat did severe a job on our team confidence and was followed by unexpected losses to Chassell, Bergland and Jeffers.
Negaunee St. Paul destroyed us later on by 27 points.
What should have been a 16-2 or 17-1 season ended up 12-6. A close loss to Baraga, the state runner-up that season, followed in the districts.
I suppose overconfidence could be blamed, but there were also untimely injuries, team spats, etc.
And the customary case of beer after Friday night home games gradually grew to two cases with each defeat.
I can remember a very good Baraga team in 1976 that should have gone on to bigger things. But the same kind of senior blues hit, and they were upset in the district finals by Dollar Bay.
And I’ve seen many more talented veteran teams go by the wayside since.
All I can hope is that the Chassell girls and Dollar Bay boys this year can avoid the same fate of all those teams.