If there is one thing Charlie Brock hates as much as a loss, it’s a preseason poll.
It was late October and I was chatting with him in his office. At the time, the Springfield men’s basketball team was ranked No. 7 in the country according to d3hoops.com.
I asked Brock about the recognition and what his feelings on it were. He paused, and then responded.
“Last time I checked, none of the teams on that poll have played a game yet.”
Technically, he was right. But the national recognition had to be worth something, right?
Not to him, and for good reason.
Assuming that a team will be one of the nation’s best before a game has been played is something that rubs Brock the wrong way. It assumes that the hardest work has already been done, which isn’t the case.
Creating a winning culture is hard. It doesn’t happen overnight. Brock has gone on to say that last year’s historic run wasn’t the culmination of one year of work — it took years and years to get to that point.
“Just ask Brandon Eckles and Andy McNulty — they’ll tell you,” he said.
Brock has preached all season that success isn’t guaranteed and doesn’t carry over from one year to another, and the team’s overall record and performances throughout the year has been a perfect example of that.
The Pride has at times, admittedly, had issues dealing with the expectations that were bestowed upon them due to last season’s success — especially early in the season.
Springfield went 1-9 during a stretch in the first half of the year — most of the losses coming before NEWMAC play even started.
The entire team was collectively knocked onto its backside.
National recognitions of the team went away. Wins weren’t guaranteed. Injuries to big contributors didn’t help things, either.
The team went from preseason NEWMAC title contenders, to potentially missing the conference tournament for the first time in over a decade. This all came to a head after the team lost in a double overtime shootout with Emerson on Feb. 2.
At that point, the team had to not only win most, if not all, of their remaining games, but they had to rely on others to drop games as well.
The Pride gained even more doubters and their backs were against the wall.
It’s exactly what they needed.
Over the last few years, it has become evident that the team would rather be doubted than to be the favorite in most cases.
Rewind three years to 2016. Springfield is 3-5 with a starting lineup full of freshmen, most notably Jake Ross and Heath Post, and no seniors going into a game against No. 1 Amherst College. No one expected the Pride to go on and upset the nation’s top-ranked team in a 71-70 victory, but they did.
Last season, the Pride lost to WPI in the NEWMAC semifinals. It was the year that the team was supposed to put it all together and win the conference tournament, but they fell short. The team miraculously earned an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament, the rest is history.
This season, Springfield drastically underperformed compared to where expectations were set for them in the preseason — then came the crushing loss to Emerson.
From that moment, it was fight or flight.
Will they chalk this season up as a failure and coast the rest of the way, or will they fight until the end?
The team’s 4-0 finish to the regular season answers that question.
Springfield has always found a way of making its season exciting. In retrospect, there was no way the team was going to lay down to end the year.
There are players on the team that know what it feels like to go to the national semifinals and achieve greatness — they want that feeling again, and it shows.
Sure, this year hasn’t gone as it was planned, but with games still left on the schedule, there is still a chance to turn things around.
Heath Post conveyed that same message earlier this season, and now, it is ringing true.
“The most important thing is to remain humble,” he said when asked about the team’s No. 7 preseason ranking.
“It’s the ranking at the end of the season that matters.”
Featured photo courtesy Jack Margaros