Shoes squeak against the shiny floor of the O’Connell Sports Center gym as Clark’s men’s basketball team runs drills at a Feb. 27 practice. Head coach Kevin Johnson points to spots on the court and barks instructions. A shot misses, bounces off the backboard and rolls to Johnson’s feet.
Both of Clark’s basketball teams fell short of the NWAC playoffs as their seasons ended March 3. The men’s team finished eighth in the NWAC South division with a 9-18 record and the women’s team finished last in the NWAC South with a 1-26 record.
“We got in a funk,” Women’s guard-forward Maggie Arnold said. “We were thinking ‘this is just how our season is going, and it’s not fun.’” She said there are many talented players, but they struggled with teamwork. “There are a lot of reasons why you might lose a game, and for us it was stuff like our shots not falling and not everybody focusing on the same goal.”
The team’s one win came after the death of teammate Gianna Loville. Which Arnold said made the players think about the big picture and why they play.
“You’re gonna come to practices and they’re gonna be so hard you’re gonna want to quit,” she said. “From the conditioning and the running and just everything. But every time you do it it’s teaching you grit and how to work hard through the things in life that get in your way. You can’t just avoid every mountain in front of you, you have to climb it or get around it somehow.”
Arnold said a season is about more than wins and losses.
“We got better all the time and there were a lot of rough things we went through but we built relationships and had a fun time,” she said. “I think those memories and relationships will last a long time.”
For the men’s team though, just two more wins might have been enough to reach the playoffs. But ultimately, close losses and a lack of experience sunk the team, Johnson said. He said the team was in “rebuilding mode” with only one returning player from last season, guard Kaden Ogles. Eight of the 11 Clark players listed on the NWAC website were freshmen.
Men’s point guard Sam Scarpelli said the transition from high school to college can take awhile.
“When you come in as a freshman you were the main guy on your team in high school,” he said. “So you think talent alone can carry you to wins. But in college basketball winning is not about talent, because every team’s got talent. Once we put that together we got better.”
Injuries also played a part according to men’s guard Jesse Vogel, who said he missed four games midseason because of patellar tendonitis.
Although Johnson said injuries are no excuse because every team has them, he said for one game he only had seven available uninjured players.
Johnson also said the team’s record is deceiving.
“We lost a lot of close games early on,” he said. “And later we were grinding out a couple wins against playoff teams. I liked where we finished this year.”
He said between the young talent this year and the prospects he hopes to add in the offseason, he’s excited for the future.
Back at the February practice, Johnson picks up the ball at his feet. He blows his whistle.
“Alright,” he shouts. “Run it again.”