The Coronado High School girls’ basketball team will play Camelback High tomorrow night – and will likely enter the game thinking it has a chance to win.
That’s such a simple assumption for most of Arizona’s prep teams. But for Coronado, it’s anything but.
For the last three seasons, winning just one game has been an insurmountable challenge for the Scottsdale school. Coronado’s girls’ team hadn’t won a game since Dec. 29, 2011 and were coming into this season riding a 79-game losing streak.
But in the third game of the season, they beat Apache Junction High School, 41-21, and suddenly the hex was broken. That’s still their only win in five games, and doesn’t signal a huge resurgence. But it’s the culmination of a long struggle to try to change the mindset of young athletes that had resigned themselves to living with defeat on a continuing basis.
The first two games of the season didn’t help any. Xavier Prep laid a devastating 72-4 beat-down in the season opener (that’s generally referred to, sadly, as running up the score – but that’s a story for another day) and Payson High followed that with a 30-point rout. And the games after the Apache Junction victory put them back in familiar territory when Campo Verde High School rolled over them, 51-18, and Goldwater High piled on with a 70-41 romp.
Xavier is a Division I team and a perennial title contender in the state’s top division, and Payson, Campo Verde, and Goldwater all play in Division III. Coronado, thanks to an appeal to move down from D-I I when re-classification took place this season, is now playing in Division IV where they can be more competitive. But they haven’t reached that part of their schedule yet.
Apache Junction, too, plays in a higher division. So Coronado actually beat a D-II team for their first win in more than three years.
The Coronado girls’ team hasn’t been able to compete at a high level for a long time. Rick Sharp posted the program’s most wins in a decade during the 2006-07 season when his team went 9-21. I was coaching at Notre Dame Prep that season and remember scrimmaging Rick’s squad before the season started. He had a competitive team that appeared headed for a double digit-win season, but lost some close games that could have gotten the Dons over the hump.
It was Sharp who coached the Dons to their last win prior to beginning the 81-game losing streak, beating Horizon Honors, 47-31. But that team lost their final 12 teams to close out the 2011-12 season with a 2-21 record. Kanandus Walker took over the coaches’ seat for the next two seasons, but couldn’t win another game, going 0-44 before handing the reins to Isaac Jackson.
Last season, Jackson matched the 0-23 mark set by Walker the previous year, and the feeling of frustration continued as the players who were finishing up their junior year were beginning to wonder if they would experience the feeling of winning a single varsity game before their high school careers ended this year.
But Jackson hung in there and returned this year, encouraged by the promise that comes with being able to play in a lower division this season.
He won’t get to his D-IV opponents for a few games yet. That would be a Dec. 11 match-up with Veritas Prep, the eighth game on the schedule.
But tomorrow’s opponent offers another opportunity to compete on more of a level playing field. Camelback is a D-III team that is winless in two games so far. The Spartans lost their opener to Phoenix Christian, a D-IV school, by 50 points and then fell to D-II Safford High, 62-29. Camelback is averaging 25 points a game.
A win over Camelback would be just the second win of the season…but also the second win in 85 games. And that makes this game hugely important for the Dons.
The process of changing a culture based on failure has begun at Coronado. But it takes time…and more winning.