Hope Springs Eternal

“A straggling few got up to go in deep despair.  The rest clung to the HOPE THAT SPRINGS ETERNAL in the human breast.  They thought, “If only Casey could get a whack at that; we’d put even money with Casey at the bat.”

That’s the second verse from my favorite poem, Casey at the Bat.  It contains the phrase I use the most when talking about the prospects of our upcoming basketball season, HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL.  Not that I’m trying to down play how good our team might be in 2011-2012.  It’s just better for a head coach to low-ball expectations.  It’s good for job security.

I probably should use the famous line from the classic comedy movie, Dumb and Dumber.  When Jim Carey asks a lovely woman the chances he can date her, she replies, “A million to one.”  Carey then answers with his often repeated line, “SO YOU’RE SAYING THERE’S A CHANCE?”  That’s really downplaying expectations, but when Carey said it, there was hope in his eyes.

This is the point in the school year where I have to answer questions from the fans, the returning players and the new players on campus.  The safe answer is always one from Casey or from Jim Carey.  By the way, did you know that Ernest Thayer wrote Casey at the Bat as a Harvard Lampoon staff member in 1888?  It came out in June when even for the Kansas City Royal, HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL.  The question is when will we see hope?

There is not a single place I can go in Maryville where someone doesn’t asks the question, “Coach, how are we going to be this year?”  Sometimes, I’ll go into detail, making stupid statements like, “Well, we’re a bunch of pups this year.”  Another great one is, “You know, we graduated our starting post players.”  My favorite is, “A 6-4 post player that was a great, Division I volleyball player, didn’t drop out of the clouds this year.”  However, detail can be bad.  I need to just stick with HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL.

Most of the time, that’s not good enough for the average fan.  They want to know if not only can we repeat the Final Four appearance, but when can they celebrate a national championship.  That’s when I should drop Jim Carey’s line, SO YOU’RE SAYING THERE’S A CHANCE!  I do love Maryville for all the attention.  It’s always good in college basketball to be LOOKED OVER, NOT OVERLOOKED.  I think I got that line in my college days as I tried to gain the attention of female college students.

The Bearcat fans in Maryville are like none other.  I love them to death.  We can have a .500 year and all summer I’ll hear, “Loved that team.” and “They were fun to watch.”  I have a feeling a few of them are just guessing and have never seen us play.  However, the large majority are sincere and thoughtful.  It drives my wife nuts when I get stopped every few steps when we grocery shop.  She tells me that’s why she refuses to make many trips to HyVee or WalMart.  Oh well, HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL.

The fans throw a lot of questions at me, but the returning players have the same questions.  Shelly Martin and Abby Henry are the two returning starters from last year’s team.  They are confident in their position on the team.  They want to know if I did my job recruiting players that can help keep us winning.

Returning starters are just a small fraction of the team.  Returning players can be put in a couple of categories.  You have a group of players that saw the door swing open for them with the graduating seniors.  They went out and really worked hard during the summer.  I had a couple of players that needed to gain weight to improve their play.  If gaining weight improved coaching, I should be put up on a pedestal.

Then there’s a group of players that know if they lost weight, it would help their chances of playing time.  I had some of those succeed in that very difficult job.  The weight gainers and weight losers are confidently concerned about going into 2011-2012.

It’s a horrible thing to say, but sometimes no matter how hard a college player works, they just won’t play.  There are two aspects to a good, college basketball player; hard work and talent.  Hard work can be monitored, but players need to thank their athletic relatives for talent.  Hard-working players have done everything they could over the summer months to help them succeed.  All they can do now is hope the newcomers are just good enough to back them up.  The correct line for summer sweaters is HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL.

Bringing this up is painful, but every team has a group of returning players that haven’t done much in the summertime.  Sometimes, it’s not all their fault.  Summer salaries often are crucial for survival in college.  A hard-working, salaried returner doesn’t mean she was a hard-working summer basketball player.  Work hours take away hours of training and extra shooting.  What did my mom always tell me, “You reap what you sow?”

Unfortunately, working hard for wages isn’t a good reason for a summer being three lazy months with hot weather.  There have been times when a returning player comes in my office for the first time since last spring and I don’t recognize them.  The player has swollen up.  They need to lay in an ice bath to make the swelling go away.  I wonder if my ice baths would make my swelling go down?  The type of swelling I am referring to comes when a player has eaten herself out of a position on the team.  A returner that needed a new wardrobe in larger sizes will lean toward Jim Carey’s line, “SO YOU’RE SAYING THERE’S A CHANCE.

The newcomers on my team have the most doubt.  A transfer student is usually confident and hopes she can work with her new teammates.  Just like with the returning players, new freshmen fall into two categories; those that have worked their butts off and those who think their skill or size will allow them to succeed.

It’s hard for a freshman to decide how to train for the college season.  The weight program they were sent has more pages than their high school history book.  Joe Quinlin, our strength and conditioning coach, even has a section in the manual on nutrient.  Who knew brownies and Big Macs aren’t on the recommended list?  A little work in the weight room always meant high school success.  College strong requires a lot more dedication.  Without having experienced that intensity, it is difficult for a freshman to work hard enough through the summer moths.  They give it the old college try and know that HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL.

The sense of entitlement never meant much to me until I started coaching in college.  The hard working players never take anything for granted.  Sometimes, I will bring in a high school kid that thinks she can live by her old statistics.  Averaging 20 points a game in high school can give you a sense of entitlement in college.  It doesn’t take long for the accomplished scoring high school stud to come down to reality.  Game time may be a long ways off, but YOU’RE SAYING THERE’S A CHANCE?

The last group of people that have to worry about the new batch of players are the coaches.  An assistant coach may have been really trying to convince me to scholarship a “sure thing” player.  When that kid gets to school a couple of hundred brownies later, the assistant coach may go into hiding.  Coaches’ reputations are on the line with the results of their recruiting.  When asked if their prize recruit will surely bring a national championship to Maryville, they can smile and say HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL.

I love listening to coaches of other sports.  The two I love to listen to the most are football coach, Charlie Flohr and the late, great, Scott Bostwick.  You know Charlie likes his recruits but he always tempers what he says with, “I hope so.”  You ask him if his quarterback will destroy the Pitt State defensive backs, Charlie will say, “I don’t know, BUT I HOPE SO.”  It’s the tone of Charlie’s voice that gives me confident the football team will win.  Most of time, I can tell Charlie knows he will drill an opponent, although he only says, “I HOPE SO.”

I remember before the Western Washington game in the playoffs a couple of years ago.  Charlie was still saying the I HOPE SO line, but you could tell he wasn’t as confident.  He saw something in Western Washington that just changed the tone of his voice.  Tyler Roach blocked and extra point in the final seconds and Charlie could live another game to say, ‘I HOPE SO.”

Scott was much different.  You couldn’t tell a thing from his voice.  It was always booming and proclaiming the game would be AWESOME!  You would ask him about a ranked opponent and he would say their quarter back was AWESOME or you would ask him about a MIAA cellar-dweller and he would say their quarterback was AWESOME.  Everybody was a challenge, but nobody was a match for Scott Bostwick.

I know some coaches predict conference and national championships, even as they are being interviewed for the job.  I go for the safer approach, like Charlie’s I HOPE SO, Casey’s HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL or Jim Carey’s YOU’RE SAYING THERE’S A CHANCE?  In truth, coaches in all sports are imagining their opponents to be much more talented than reality.  In the words of Scott Bostwick, it’ll be AWESOME!

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Gene Steinmeyer

About Gene Steinmeyer

Gene Steinmeyer coached the Northwest Missouri State women’s basketball team for 13 seasons before retiring after 26 years as a collegiate head coach after the 2011-12 season. He retired as the second winningest women’s basketball coach at Northwest as his 2010-11 team won both the MIAA Regular Season and Tournament Championship advancing to the NCAA National Semifinals one game shy of the national championship game.