With the exception of Mount Paran Christian, which is back in the playoffs after a one-year hiatus, each of the county’s postseason participants is making at least its third straight trip to the state playoffs tonight.
Just getting to the postseason is difficult to do, and it’s probably even more difficult to sustain the kind of success each of these teams have achieved. Regardless of the process, the goal is always the same.
“I think we all have that expectation that at a minimum we want to make the postseason,” Mount Paran coach Mitch Jordan said. “It’s tough (to make the postseason), and the kids see what kind of work it takes each year to get there. But that’s the kids’ expectations and that’s our expectations as a program to make the postseason each year, but it is tough.”
Kell coach Derek Cook sees postseason aspirations as a mental approach.
“It’s just establishing a mentality and expectation of what this program is going to do on a year-in and year-out basis,” he said. “The expectation the coaches put out for the players is that’s what we’re working for and we’re not settling for anything less is kind of the mentality. I think that’s for everybody. It’s not easy to maintain it, but once you get going, then you know how to get there.
“I think maybe the hardest part is learning and teaching the players what it takes to make the playoffs. Then once they have an understanding and they’ve learned that, then it gets a little bit easier to continue to do it. They have the experience and the leadership and the know-how from the guys that came through before them and given them the knowledge that they need to make the return visit.”
The postseason also brings about heightened anticipation and anxiety levels for players and coaches.
“Anything you wanted to hold in the regular season is on the table in the playoffs,” Walton coach Rocky Hidalgo said. “As they say, there’s no tomorrow. If you lose, you’re done. The finality of the game puts an added emphasis on everything you do in preparation.”
The feeling is different in preparing for a win-or-go-home game than a regular season contest, however, the actual game-planning preparation remains the same.
“There’s definitely a different feel preparing for a playoff game,” Jordan said. “I think there’s another level of excitement there knowing that there are a lot of schools not playing. But, you always want to be practicing at this time. That means you’ve had a good year.”
Allatoona coach Gary Varner echoed the sentiment.
“I think you prepare the same so the kids don’t get caught up in the moment the other way,” Varner said. “If you go overboard with the importance of win or go home and all that stuff, you can put negative thoughts in their mind. So, we don’t really change our preparation.
“I think some teams do a good job of maybe changing up and getting that hype, but sometimes you can go too far. I keep it consistent with the kids so they know what to expect, and they just feel like this must be the way it goes. If you do different things, then they might think you’re desperate or they might think, ‘Why weren’t we doing this the whole year?’”
It’s the consistency, as well as the talent and the coaching, that determines how good a program can be.
“It’s the old idea of rinse, wash, repeat,” Hidalgo said. “I think you find a formula that’s effective and you stick with it. You go back and you’re consistent every day. If you’re consistent every day then you have a chance to be consistent in what you do.”
Once a team makes the postseason, experience, game-planning and execution all factor in on whether a team is able to advance.
“I think experience is helpful, but you get over that really quickly once the game gets going,” Cook said. “If it comes down to being a close game, I think that does help a little bit. But I don’t think it makes a difference between a win or a loss, but it certainly helps you get there. Performance and execution determines wins and losses more so than it is experience.”