There are many overused clichés and directives in the world of coachspeak, especially at playoff time.
One is to “take them one at a time,” believed to have been first uttered by Olympic wrestling champ Milo of Croton during the Summer Games of 540 B.C.
Another is the need to stay focused.
What exactly does that mean?
You don’t have to ask a coach, study certain behavior patterns, or even look it up in Noah Webster’s book of too many words to find the definition.
All you had to do was listen to Jenna Mathews of the Allegany High girls basketball team, after her team had beaten Poolesville, 53-29, on Saturday to earn a trip to the state tournament.
One of four Alco seniors, Mathews was playing her typical game — smart and aggressive. In the opening minutes of the second half, with the score 20-15, she cut her lip and suffered a broken nose.
She returned and had four points and five rebounds in the half, and finished with a game-high 12 points and nine rebounds.
After the game, she was in for a 90-minute ride home and a trip to the hospital.
“It hurt pretty bad at first,’’ she said, even chuckling a bit. “I know I’m going to the hospital when I get home to get it set, but I’m more worried about Friday’s game than the hospital.”
That’s focus, with physical and mental toughness close by on center stage, too.
“Jenna is the most competitive kid,’’ said coach Jim O’Neal. “Whenever we’re in a fight, we know she’s going to step up and come through for us.”
Last year’s loss to Pocomoke in the state championship game is still pretty fresh on the minds of the Campers. Since the final buzzer that night, they’ve wanted nothing more than to return to that final game.
To do that, they’ve had to stay focused. And they did, overcoming an 0-2 start that surprised some, winning 22 straight games, a sectional, a regional and a conference that boasted two 20-win teams and four that won 15.
Saturday’s win was Allegany’s 46th in its last 51 games. The Campers led by only 22-15 with 6:30 left in the third quarter, then DeTonia DeGross and Co. turned up the defensive pressure and dominated the final 14 minutes by 31-14.
DeGross isn’t the area’s top scorer, and isn’t the team’s top scorer. Scoring isn’t everything. Everything is what DeGross does. People notice, too. She was the player of the year last year, as a junior.
“DeTonia is the only basketball player in the area, girl or boy, who can completely dominate a game without scoring a point,’’ said Allegany coach Jim O’Neal. “She creates havoc on defense, and on offense sets up her teammates and is never worried about scoring herself.”
DeGross is a bit shy when it comes to media types. But there’s nothing shy about her game on the court. She can defend, score and lead.
And few can whip a one-handed baseball-style pass like she can, and did, numerous times Saturday afternoon. One, nearly three-quarters court, hit Mathews in stride for a layup early in the fourth quarter.
“DeTonia is great, and is such a good point guard,’’ said forward Kelly Baker. “She can pass and score, and she plays great defense. She’s just an all-around player.”
Baker is one of seven underclassmen. So is Leah Wormack, a 6-1 center who plays like a senior but is only a sophomore.
She said there are no real “substitutes” on the team. O’Neal agreed.
“I have no reservations about putting anyone in off the bench,’’ he said.
“There are others who come off the bench and can rebound, post up and play defense just as good as I can,’’ Wormack said modestly.
“We’ve worked hard all season with the desire to win the state tournament, after having gone so far last year. We have to keep working hard, and hopefully finish by winning these last two games so we can come home this time with some rings.”
Contact Mike Mathews at firstname.lastname@example.org.