Eminence High School was the third smallest public school participating in regional tournaments around the state this week.
Only Augusta (105 students) and Fulton City (108) beat Eminence’s 150 for the title of smallest school still taking on the big boys of high school basketball.
Augusta must be commended for their 39th district championship having knocked off mighty Mason County and Bracken County for the crown.
That doesn’t diminish what Eminence has done this year. After years of struggling to compete with the bigger schools around them, the Warriors have commanded respect from their district rivals this year. They beat all four at least once during the season.
As much as we love David versus Goliath story lines, they almost never happen anymore. I guess if they did, we wouldn’t love them so much.
There are several reasons for the Warrior’s success this year.
First, they had depth that they have almost never had. The starting lineup has changed several times this year and the Warriors haven’t missed a beat.
Another thing about having depth that often gets overlooked is that it makes practices more competitive. It’s hard to get better if you can come out at practice and go half speed and destroy the second team. That definitely wasn’t the case for this Warrior team.
Coach Chris Nethery had said on several occasions that practices were more competitive than he has seen them since becoming head coach.
The second thing is changing the culture to a winning one. That is very difficult to do when there have been years of losing. This group, with Nethery’s guidance, has been able to do that. They went into games against teams they haven’t beaten in years and believed they were going to win.
That leads to the third and probably most important thing aside from talent-character.
It takes strong character to break out of a stereotype that everyone around you has set for you. Again, some credit must go to Nethery for instilling character into this team with some hard lessons.
There have been benchings and suspensions this season. But rather than tearing the team apart it has instilled toughness and taught them that doing things the right way will help you get to where you want to go.
Finally, the team understands that being a good team isn’t necessarily about everyone scoring a lot of points. Everyone on the team has accepted a role. Jalen Dixie has been a prolific scorer and taken a lot of burden on his shoulders. Brandon Mitchell and Daishon Moore have provided inside toughness on an undersized team.
Brooklyn Rucker has been a lock down defender and come up with big baskets in tight situations. Trent Overall has provided deadly long-range accuracy to take some pressure off Dixie.
My favorite role player on the team has been Cornelius Sanford who has taken on several different roles for the team. Sanford is an example of a selfless player who never takes a bad shot and usually draws a tough defensive assignment. Every good team needs players like Sanford to get where they want to go.
Justin Mitchell, Mitchell Golden and Demarcus Bailey have provided a spark off the bench. And the rest of the substitutes have done their part by making practices tough on the top players.
The Warriors reached their goal of making it to the regional tournament by beating the Gallatin County Wildcats in the semifinals of the district tournament.
So the finals were icing on the cake. No pressure-right? Wrong.
These Warriors were not satisfied with their preseason goal. They had a strong desire to bring home a district championship for their school and you could see it in the tears and long faces on the bench after the game against Owen.
The team could not muster smiles as I snapped their picture while accepting the runner-up trophy.
They knew that they had come very close to doing something that no Eminence team had done in a very long time and it hurt.
That tells you more than anything about how much this team has turned things around. In previous years second place would have been good enough, but not this year.
Coach Nethery told me that the team used the pain of Saturday night to focus on the task at hand, which is to beat Simon Kenton and advance to semifinals of the regional tournament.
That is Simon Kenton with an enrollment of 1,670 students.
I’m sure the Warriors were thinking, “Bring on Goliath”!