Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Knights in rusty armor (0-19)

As expected, Harding got destroyed by Minnehaha Academy 88-35, thus sealing their first winless season in school history. This happens just one year after finishing at the bottom of the St. Paul City Conference for the first time in school history.

This was once a team that could battle with the greats in the state. Powered by Shannon Loeblein and head coach Tom Gunderson, now at Central, Harding finished second in the 1990 and 1991 class AA state championship (they expanded to four classes in 1997).

Gunderson was replaced by Jerry Utecht, who hasn't fielded many talented teams since his tenure began in 1994. I was a Harding student the last time the lady Knights had a competitive team, in the 2003-04 season. Since then, Harding has become a doormat that everyone else can stomp on. One of my partners and I joked on the phone that we could beat them with one hand tied behind our back shooting just threes. The players don't put their hands up to take away open looks and appear lethargic overall.

Some former Harding players say Utecht doesn't do enough to make his team competitive. If you go by his record, you might win that argument. On the other end, you need solid players to contribute. Harding doesn't have that either. There is little incentive to step up your game when you play in a mostly empty gym.

I could continue to gripe, but anyone can do that. I understand high school sports are extracurricular activities and wins alone should not define the experience. However, I think the student athletes would enjoy the sport if they felt like they had a chance to win. Harding needs to find people who want to play and are willing to improve their skills throughout a season. A coach or assistant coach that could mold potential into talent would also benefit Harding.

Finishing a season without a win in a low-respected conference does have a psychological effect. Performance does come in cycles, but Harding may have reached the point where no one cares about the state of girls basketball on the far East Side of St. Paul. The bright side? Harding can't do any worse next season.

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