CHARLESTON — After 27 years, the long wait is over.
For the second time in program history, Shady Spring will play in the state tournament after last doing so in 1994. Getting there is only half the battle, though, and the Tigers don't have any experience at the state tournament. In fact, the team has never won a state tournament game in program history.
Head coach Ronnie Olson doesn't think that means much with his group.
"They're just a different breed," Olson said. "Everybody is like, 'They're going to get up there and get nervous,' but they don't know that these kids want to play there. It's not like talk for the paper. We're doing a sendoff and they don't even want to do that. They just want to go and play. They're ready to go.
"They keep saying that we're staying until Saturday. They've waited way too long for this. That's all they know is basketball. They're not going to go up there and be shocked by the lights or the court. They're just going to go do what they do."
Awaiting them Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. in the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center will be Herbert Hoover — or what's left of it.
After their Region 3 co-final win over Westside, the Huskies entered quarantine due to contact tracing.
Olson told The Register-Herald Tuesday morning that most of Hoover's varsity team would be ruled out for the contest. According to the Charleston-Gazette Mail, the only starter that will be available for the Huskies is senior Trey Chapman because he is vaccinated. The Hoover coaching staff will also be available for the game.
"What concerns me is (Chapman)," Olson said. "He's about 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds. A really big kid and I'm sure he plays football. He's got a lot of girth and he's got good moves and good feet. I'm a little worried about him ... But like I said, we've prepared and watched tons of film on them. We've been preparing for a week. There's nothing left to do than go out there and defend in the halfcourt."
Even before the quarantine the Huskies had little state tournament experience as a program, making the dance just once before.
The Tigers are in the same boat, carrying no state tournament experience on their roster, but the staff is a little different.
Olson was a guard on the 2000 Independence team that finished Class AA runner-up. Not one to talk about when he played, Olson has used his experience to reinforce his team's confidence.
"I've shared a lot of things with them about when I played," Olson said. "I'm not one of those guys that I talk about when I played, but this week I told them, 'Listen, you get up there and before you know it you're playing on that floor and in the blink of an eye you go after it and take care of business.' Really it seems simple, but it really is. It seems like a lifelong journey and dream for every kid. I told them you're there and you think you're playing one game and you go after it and you're playing for a chance at history and it's really that simple. I believe there are great teams in triple-A, but I told them if we do what we do and we play hard, we'll be good."
As for the venue and its notorious reputation for making good shooting teams look bad, Olson believes it's more mental than anything. Again, as a player he had success from beyond the arc, nailing four 3-pointers in the 2000 title game, so he's passing every tip he can on to his players. He's going to dance with what brought him to Charleston — shooting and defense.
"Obviously, people talk about shooting, and we're a 3-point shooting team, but what makes us different is how we defend in the half court," Olson said. "I'm going to go out and let them shoot. If teams want to play zone and think we're going to shoot differently, let them. You can look at a couple games at West Virginia State and the Armory. We were lights-out there.
"We were worse at home than those big arenas. We're not changing anything. I shot well up there and it was no adjustment for me. If you don't get nervous in the moment, you'll be fine and none of my boys get nervous. If you shoot it well and defend, it's a good recipe for success. Like I said, we're not going up to play Wednesday, we're going up to play the whole week. I know everybody feels the same way, but I'm excited."
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