Clear Spring girls try for a Blaze of glory

January 16, 2004|by DAN KAUFFMAN

CLEAR SPRING - Erin Grossnickle looks nothing like Dr. Phil, but the job laid out in front of her must make her feel a little like television's most well-known psychiatrist.

When trying to cure a 53-game losing streak, there are no easy answers.

That's the daunting truth that Clear Spring's girls basketball coach has faced since she and assistant coach John Wilson - who took over a JV squad which hasn't won in four years - inherited the downtrodden program this season.

"You have to crawl before you can walk," Wilson said Wednesday evening before practice, "and that's the stage we're in."

n Before anything good can stand in the place of anything bad, it stands to reason what's left of the bad must be torn down. When Grossnickle took over, she quickly discovered the wrecking ball had some work left.


"There was no organized practice before," Grossnickle said. "I had to start with what a pick was."

During the preseason, Grossnickle established several simple goals for the players to strive toward each day. They included encouraging each other, staying positive and - perhaps most importantly - making a commitment.

"You have to show up to practice every day, dedicate yourself to the team and practice hard each day," Grossnickle said.

The change from a laid-back atmosphere to an enjoyable, yet workmanlike one has rubbed off on senior starters Tara Fockler and Tawnya Blair - players who have been on the court for most of those 53 losses.

"Last year, we goofed off in practice, and this year we know when to be serious," Fockler said. "The discipline is a lot different."

"You can see a big improvement from the year before," Blair said. "Our attitudes are getting better."

Then there's learning the Xs and Os. It's been a slow process, but one which Blair can see is starting to show dividends.

"We knew the plays and the defenses, and now we're running it in games as well as practices," Blair said. "Last year we never ran plays."

"It's starting to slowly turn around," Grossnickle said.

n Establishing solid practice habits and building an environment of positive support and reinforcement are certainly building blocks for turning a program around. That still leaves one very significant intangible.

"The beginning of the game, if we do something that gets us down, we don't think we can do it," Fockler said.

Therein lies the rub.

All of the players who were in uniform when Clear Spring last won a game - a 54-41 victory over Hancock on Feb. 16, 2001 - have since moved on. None of the current players have experienced a victory as a Blazer, so it's not difficult to understand why there's a lack of confidence.

Grossnickle's message to her team is clear: It's a new year, a new day, a new game. What's in the past can not be affected, but what lies ahead can.

"It's an attitude (you need) from the beginning of the game," Grossnickle said, "that it's a new game, you have the ability to win and you're not going to lose. ... One win will turn these girls around."

"Each game it gets better," Fockler said. "I think we just need to win one to build our confidence."

And should that victory finally come this season?

"Not only would it mean something for the team, but the public and the school would be shocked," Blair said. "I would like to win one game. At least one."

Or as Fockler simply stated, "I would cry. I would seriously cry."

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