Column: One foot in front of the other, in hopes of finding success
LAWRENCEVILLE – If the journey to success is a marathon, the Rider women’s basketball team is not that a slick, speedy pro from Kenya.
The Broncs are not a college cross-country star from California.
In this race, they are not fit, fast or even fully functional.
Rider is more like a clumsy teenager who got a ride to the race from her big brother, wears braces and sometimes trips over her own feet.
But if they keep moving forward, first-year coach Lynn Milligan knows the Broncs will get to the finish line.
She knows they’ll get there, knows the route to take, and knows that a few skinned knees won’t diminish the fulfillment they’ll feel when they finally get there.
She also knows that although they’re not close to finishing the race, they’ve made progress. The Broncs (5-11, 0-5 MAAC), who play Friday at Fairfield, have already won as many games this season than they did in the previous two years combined under former coach Tori Harrison.
“From where we started to where we are now,” Milligan said, “it’s astronomical leaps. But where we want to be, it’s going to take astronomical leaps to get there.”
It would have taken an astronomical leap for the Broncs to overcome a 17-point second-half deficit last Sunday against Loyola. They attempted to make the leap. They fell down before they got to their destination, but they almost made it, cutting the deficit to three with 36 seconds remaining before the Greyhounds hit their free throws, took care of their business and got the heck out of Alumni Gym, averting the embarrassment that would have come from becoming the first MAAC team – and only the second in the last two years – to lose to the Broncs.
It was a game that the Broncs could have had.
There are not supposed to be moral victories in college basketball. A win is a win, a loss is a loss, and a missed opportunity is a missed opportunity. That’s how it’s supposed to be.
But teams are never supposed to be as bad as Rider was last year, so for the Broncs, its OK to bend the rules. It’s even OK to take a glass-half-full approach to this stat: the Broncs’ 10 single-digit losses are the most in the country.
You need not be an astro-physicist to figure out that not every team would be content to be anywhere on that list, let alone at the top of it. UConn does not lead the country in single-digit losses because the top-ranked Huskies have no losses.
But when you’re coming off two seasons in which you won a combined five games, you find yourself smiling upon that stat and even, in Rider’s case, showing it off for everyone to see it. Stats that reflect poorly on teams are rarely included in the game notes prepared for the media, but there it is in the Broncs’ notes, reminding reporters that there have been many losses, but no blowout losses.
When you’re trying to build a program from the ground up, you find yourself looking at the positives. You find yourself, as Milligan was following the comeback that wasn’t quite completed, thinking that with an adjusted mindset, those close losses could turn into close wins.
“We talk about fear a lot with this team,” Milligan said. “And when you’re not used to winning, sometimes you’re afraid to make mistakes. Sometimes you get afraid of failure. You’re a little bit afraid of success and what that means.
“So those are some of the things we need to work out. I think that’s going to help us as we get more comfortable with who we are and what we’re capable of doing.”
The Broncs cannot see the finish line. They cannot even see the halfway point.
But they’re moving forward. A win at Fairfield (11-5, 1-4) would be another astronomical leap.
But if they don’t win, maybe they’ll add to their total of single digit losses.
Maybe they’ll put together a complete game.
Maybe they won’t dig themselves into an 8-0 hole, or fall behind by 17 in the second half.
Maybe they’ll play well enough to say they’ve taken another small step.
And maybe if they keep doing that, they’ll eventually get to the finish line.