Holding an insurmountable 47-18 fourth-quarter lead with less than six minutes to play in Thursday’s Catholic League quarterfinal match-up against St. Hubert, Archbishop Wood head coach Jim Ricci emptied his bench. The game was all but finished, and many spectators in Wood’s Warminster gym probably expected the opponent to roll over.
Wave the white flag? These Bambies? Fat chance.
So it was no surprise to see St. Hubert head coach Brian Kuzmick employ a full-court press on the Wood reserves as if the Bambies were down by one point instead of almost 30. And if that was no surprise, then neither was the verbal jousting that ensued between Kuzmick and his assistant, Paul Fricker, and Ricci and his assistant, John Gallagher. The Vikings’ coaches didn’t appreciate Hubert’s pressing when trailing by so much, while Kuzmick took umbrage at the expectation that his team should quit before time ran out.
The Wood starters came back, and St. Hubert still ended up losing by a final score of 61-34; but the message was received loud and clear: These Bambies will fight until the bitter end.
“Listen, we’re not going to give up or roll over,” Kuzmick said after the loss that ended the St. Hubert season. “I coach hard until the end and my kids play hard until the end, no matter the situation. My mindset is always to try to find a way back into the game. We need to fight for everything we get; we aren’t handed anything, nor do we expect to be. If John Gallagher disagreed with our trap and press then … I’m just trying to get our program and kids on their level. How can we do that by telling them to lie down with five-and-a-half minutes left in a playoff game?”
Both coaching staffs shook hands when the game ended, seemingly burying the hatchet. As Kuzmick said, the Wood reserves are as good as most other teams’ starters, and the three-time reigning state champion banners hanging in the gym further reinforce that fact.
In a league where getting to the postseason semifinals is a goal in and of itself (something St. Hubert hasn’t done in over a decade), bringing a hard-nosed, never-say-die attitude to any game is mandatory.
“A team like that, they don’t have lulls or lapses,” Kuzmick said of Wood. “For us to be able to compete with them, we have to match that for 32 minutes. As soon as you blink or take a breath, they can score nine or 10 in a row.”
Indeed they can, and did. The score was tied at seven in the first quarter before Wood scored the next 12; the game was never closer than 10 the rest of the way.
Now, St. Hubert will be forced to look to next season. Luckily for the Bambies, they will return a ton of talent. Gone will be reserves Lea Strauser, Claire Alminde and Casey Matthews, as well as leading scorer Charlotte Kucowski. But Kucowski’s head-scratching struggles down the stretch allowed others to emerge, mainly freshman Meghan Matthews (who played with the poise of a senior), as well as seniors-to-be Caroline Price and Elizabeth “Biff” Jones, both guards.
Jones and Price, “attitude players, in a good way,” as Kuzmick put it, were the fourth-quarter standouts for the Bambies against Wood. They continued to drive to the basket with reckless abandon in an attempt to draw fouls despite the fact that the result had all but been decided.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re down 50, you just cannot show that you’re defeated,” Price said. “If you go into the game thinking you’re already beat, then what’s the point of even playing? We always play as if we’re down a point. You never just give up … why would you after spending seven days a week, three hours a day working on this for so long? If you’re going to lose, fine, but don’t throw in the towel. I don’t understand those people. That’s not the type of player I am or the type of team we are.”
“It would have been easy for us to give up when our school was going to close, but we didn’t and it was saved,” she said. “In general, I think St. Hubert girls just have that attitude and that heart where we refuse to give up no matter what the situation.”
These are the types of philosophies every Bambie must employ if they want to get over the hump and into the semifinals. St. Hubert can point to its close losses to semifinal qualifiers like Archbishop Ryan and Archbishop Carroll during the regular season as an indication of how close the Bambies were to breaking through. However, Kuzmick also issued a stern challenge to his players over the offseason, telling them they wouldn’t get by on attitude and toughness alone. Plain and simple, they all must elevate their games if they want to elevate the program.
Jones and Price said as soon as the Bambies got on the bus to leave Wood they were already discussing next season. Most of the Bambies will play AAU ball together in the offseason and have individual goals for improvement in mind; for Price it’s to become a better shooter, while Jones wants to get stronger defensively.
“I’ll take 500 shots a week, or more if I have to,” Price said. “I want that responsibility and control over how things go for us. I want to be someone who the younger players can come to for advice, and I feel like my job as a captain isn’t done if we aren’t fighting every second out there. Everyone has to be on the same page. If they are, my job is done; if not, then it’s my fault, and I’ll fix it. I’m ready for it.”
Added Jones, who had just returned from a workout despite having the day off from school for Presidents’ Day: “We want to be respected and mentioned in the same breath as a team like Wood. To do that, our hard work starts right now. We have to get better as individuals so that when it’s time for us to come together as a team we’ll be that much better.”
Although the season didn’t end the way they had hoped, St. Hubert recognized the strides the program made. At the same time, progress alone won’t propel the team into the semifinals or championship. The talent is there … now it’s just a matter of polishing it.
“To be perfectly honest, it’s disappointing, especially after a 4-0 start,” Kuzmick said. “There were some bright spots and we did some nice things, but we finished 12-12.
“The good thing is, we, by far, had the least amount of contributions by seniors, points-wise, than any other team ahead of us. That means we get to bring back six juniors, all of whom contributed this year. Meghan Matthews will only get better. We’re very excited about what we bring back. We have nice pieces and skills, but all those returners need to get substantially better to get to the next level, and they know that.”••
Sports editor Ed Morrone can be reached at 215-354-3035 or firstname.lastname@example.org