It’s tempting to look at the Eagles men’s basketball team in terms of what they didn’t do. At 13-14, they didn’t have a winning record. They didn’t win any of their first six games. They didn’t advance past the first round of the RMAC Shootout tournament.
But the team deserves far more credit for what it did. Like when Moala Tautuaa and Kevin McClelland broke the 1,000 career points mark. Or how Christian McGhee played with broken ribs for weeks. Or Chris Curtis’ multiple 20-plus point performances at the end of the season. Or when Chadron students packed Armstrong Gymnasium and rushed the court to celebrate a nail-biting victory over the rival University of Nebraska, Kearney in the season’s final home game.
This season’s RMAC preseason poll picked Chadron to finish 12th in the conference. And until mid-January, that prediction didn’t seem too outlandish for a team that had, at the time, won only two games.
It’s important to point out that although the team had an achingly slow start, they played close games against tough opponents, dropping their first five games by an average margin of only three points.
Lurking just behind the difficulties of bringing eight new players onboard, was a tough, competitive team. Midway through the season, that team burst out of its shell.
“We all matured as one,” Josh Hatcher, junior of Oakland, Calif., said, “like one unit. We all just understood what we had to do to win.”
That understanding had to count for something, because after securing a win against New Mexico Highlands University on Jan. 13, the team took off on a ferocious late-season tear, winning 11 of their next 13 games.
The spectacular performance clinched the team a berth in the RMAC tournament, but an unexpected upset by Fort Lewis College over Adams State College meant that Chadron would play the first round of the tournament on the road against the University of Nebraska, Kearney.
Head coach Brent Bargen identified this as one of the most difficult moments of the season.
“It was very much an emotional letdown. We did everything we were supposed to do, winning all of those games,” Bargen said, “and [we’re] rewarded with a game on the road against a team [we] just beat.”
That game against Kearney was Chadron’s last this season. And the 86-63 loss seemed disappointingly abrupt after such an emotionally charged season.
But again, that’s the sort of attitude that discounts the great moments.