Curtain call

St. Hubert fell to Arch­bish­op Wood in last week’s post­season bout, but the Bam­bies didn’t go down without a fight.

Char­lotte Ku­cowski(10), at left, and Car­oline Pierce(20), right, fight for a re­bound against NAME NEEDED (21) of Arch­bish­op Wood.

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.”

Jones agreed.

“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 em­or­

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