Nov. 15, 2011
Junior guard Molly Yardley will take Army women's basketball fans on a journey throughout the 2011-12 season through her blog The Whole Nine Yards. Yardley is the Black Knights' top returning scorer from a year ago and only returning starter. Check back weekly to follow along with the inside happenings of the Army women's basketball team.
PERFECT IN FAILURE
Welcome back Army fans! I hope you all enjoyed your long weekend. We got ours started off on the right foot with a HUGE win over Wagner on Friday night! I've played in a lot of great basketball games, but that one was by far the most fun I've ever had out on the court, and I think most of the girls would agree with me. There was energy, passion, intensity, and a lot of toughness. We refused to get pushed around on our home floor and the end result of that was a 70-46 win.
We walked into practice on Saturday feeling good about where we were as a team in terms of our willingness and ability to compete, and we set to work getting ready to take on Seton Hall on Sunday afternoon. We knew they would be athletic--they were. We knew they'd be very physical and aggressive--also true. We knew that they would pressure us the entire game--check. We were completely prepared for what they were going to do; the only question was how we would handle it with such a young team.
The entire game was a dogfight - there were a total of eighteen lead changes. The score was 25-24 at the half (a real defensive stalemate), and the second half was just as fierce. We got down ten with about six minutes to go in the second half, and it would've been really easy to pack it in and hang our heads. What did we do, though? We dug in. We cut the lead in half in a matter of minutes, and were down just three points with less than ten seconds to go. It would have been awesome if the last few plays went perfectly, but we all know that rarely happens. We ended up losing, but we learned a few things about ourselves in the process: first, there is absolutely no quit in this team. Second, we can hang with anybody because of our defensive integrity and toughness, even a Big East team. And finally, St. Francis doesn't stand a chance on Wednesday. No fury like an Army team scorned...
A couple of weeks ago, we gave you a glimpse into that torturous practice tradition that is Perfect Defense. First, I need to mention that the drill was in fact created by Coach Colleen Mullen, which makes absolute sense because anything that is exhausting and mentally draining probably originates with her. But perhaps lost in the sarcasm and description about the drill was this idea of perfection. Let me tell you a bit about our team--even for those of us who pretend that achievement isn't a big deal, it is. We're all obsessed with perfection and success. You probably won't find a higher concentration of Type A people in the world than in our locker room, unless of course you ran upstairs to the Women's Basketball Offices.
For some people, this manifests as an obsession with neatness and organization in the team room. For some, it's about eating half a leaf at lunch and finding some sun at all costs. For others, it might be the habit of copying over a Nuke problem set for the fourth time because erasure marks are just intolerable (not that I know anyone who does this...). Need I go on? Perfection can pretty easily dominate anything and everything we do, and a lot of days, it does. Perfection is the standard operating procedure at a place like West Point. If you're going to do something here, you better make sure it's the very best you can do, and if it's not, you better work on it until it is.
This brings us to practices and games. With a young team (even a very old team, really), mistakes happen. Turnovers are a part of the game. We miss box outs, we miss shots. We don't get two stops in a row in Perfect Defense that often. We split our first two games. The point is, we fail a heck of a lot more than we succeed. As my Dad often reminds me after a rough shooting game, only the best make one out of three. Failure is human, and although we may protest the idea some days, we are also human. So why is it that missing shots or having turnovers or turning in a problem set with an erasure mark on it makes us want to set our hair on fire?
I would hypothesize that Coach Magarity, like any good coach, sets out every day to have the perfect practice or game. I can sort of hear a sarcastic phrase ringing in my ears like, "Well if you're going to plan to have a bad practice, what's the point in having one at all?" Fair enough, Coach. As previously established, perfection is unattainable. But therein lies the trap. It might be a myth that you'll never play a perfect game or have a "perfect season" as is so legendary in sports, but there are things you can do perfectly. Perfect effort, for example, because we've learned that effort takes no talent. You can be a perfect teammate, always supportive and protective. You can be the perfect locker neighbor and not leave your dirty laundry in my space. Most importantly, you can be perfect in how you handle failure.
That's our struggle right now, and I suspect has long been a struggle for Army teams. You take a group of high-achieving, success-obsessed high schoolers and place them in an environment where failure is really the only option they present you with at first. R-Day, anyone? Anna Simmers and I went through R-Day together, and after five minutes I'd misspelled my name, laughed when yelled at, and forgotten what state I was from. Then you get to basketball season and there are all these new plays and bigger, faster, and stronger people and you just can't do anything right. That's all plebe year was--an adventure in learning to fail. Then just when you think that Yuk year will be easier because you can talk outside, call people by their first name, and un-cup your hands, you meet Physics and the rest of the Yuk year academic classes. Every year, it seems like there's something else to fail at.
The perfect game doesn't exist. It's a myth that has plagued athletes from the beginning of time. In our first two games, there were things we did incredibly well and still things that left Coach scratching his head wondering if we'd ever been taught to play basketball. By setting the bar at perfection, we're setting ourselves up for failure. Don't get me wrong, I'm still one hundred percent sure that every single three I take is going in, but then it doesn't and I've got to move on. We set out thinking we're not going to turn the ball over for an entire game, but usually in the first five minutes somebody loses the ball off of their fingertips and we're back at square one. We tell ourselves we won't miss a box out or give up an offensive rebound, but then there's that one long rebound that goes right over our heads and falls to the other team. We told ourselves we'd be 2-0 coming out of this weekend and we fell short. We hang our heads a second, get a little of that classic sideline encouragement to do better, then somebody will yell out, "Let's go, girls! We've got this." There's a sort of comfort in knowing we're at least all failing together.
In the beginning of the season, we put in a defensive closeout drill, where a defender has to sprint out at an offensive player and play the ball. Again, sort of a set up for failure since you're charging full speed at a person who is simply waiting for you to get close enough to go right by you. But the point isn't so much the girl closing out on the ball, it's about the girl standing behind her, waiting to be the help when she gets beat. I mean it's still no bueno to get beat easily off of the dribble on a bad closeout and you'll still get yelled at, but your teammate picks up your girl, and everybody scrambles and rotates a spot to cover the failure. It's like it never happened by the end of the play.
On Friday, Coach Magarity started two plebes - one of the only times that has happened in the history of Army Women's Basketball. One of those plebes, Olivia Schretzman, is a West Pointer by birth. Her dad, LTC Chuck Schretzman, was an Army football player back in the day and her brother is a Yuk. We call her Liv or Schretzy, and she's a heck of a basketball player. I like her especially for her quirky sense of humor, but here are five things you might not know:
1) She's Canadian...sort of. She lived in Canada for two years in middle school. Don't ask her to say "Eh," though.
2) She listens to folk music, and we're not talking the mainstream Bob Dylan impersonation kind.
3) She is into hats, like the knit kind, even when it's not cold outside.
4) She makes faces at everything, the most incredible faces you've ever seen. It's really hard not to laugh out loud sometimes at them, such as when we're getting yelled at in practice.
5) She's a deceptively good dancer, especially when we take her belongings and make her dance to get them back. She's just so competitive.
Now that you've gotten to know Liv, and you've gotten to know our team's obsession with perfection, here's the Quote of the Day:
"Try as hard as we may for perfection, the net result of our labors is an amazing variety of imperfectness. We are surprised at our own versatility in being able to fail in so many different ways." - Samuel McChord Crothers
We get beat on the closeout. We miss rebounds and box out assignments. We leave our shoes all over the locker room and forget to fold the towels. We're late for warm-ups. We kick up the ladder during conditioning drills and have to do more burpees than my arms can handle. We dropped our second game of the year. Maybe it's because we're so stubborn or something, but this weird thing has happened to us in spite of our consistent failures - we've learned to try even harder. Tomorrow, we'll be perfect.
GO ARMY! BEAT ST. FRANCIS!