During our coverage of fall sports postseason action this week, I came upon two photographs that, to me, captured the essence of “why we play sports.”
One was taken in the Glenwood gym at the conclusion of Creston’s upset victory over Glenwood in the quarterfinals of regional tournament play. The Rams had won the earlier meeting, 3-1, on the Panthers’ home court.
This time, Creston came out with total dominance in a 3-0 sweep, when it counted. Glenwood’s only lead of the night was 1-0 in game two.
I trained the camera on the players on the court just as the final point was being played out, with the other Creston players shown on the bench in the background. It played out better than I even hoped, as the Panther players —particularly middle hitter Natalie Mostek — showed a rush of emotion as her team scored the clinching point of the match.
Everyone in the photo was showing pure joy and elation. A program that has taken its lumps for years had just done something unexpected by outsiders. But it was something they had worked for, and knew they had in them.
That moment is what you think about on that seventh set of sprints at the end of practice, or the 6:30 a.m. weightlifting session. Or the mid-morning skills work in a hot gym in June.
It’s when you come together as a team and achieve something you’ve worked toward. A moment of proving something, to the community, and to yourselves.
Yes, both the volleyball team and the football team lost to highly-ranked teams with superior talent the past two nights. The Creston/O-M Panthers fell 45-7 to No. 1-ranked Sioux City Bishop Heelan Wednesday night on the Morningside field where former Panthers Alan Smith and Briar Evans now play; and the Panther volleyball team was defeated by 17th-ranked Lewis Central Thursday night.
But no matter what the circumstances, when that “final” moment comes, and you’re a senior, it hits you hard. Contributing photographer Terry Freeman captured the essence of seniors and coach sharing one last huddle at midfield Wednesday night, after coach Morrison had met with the full squad.
It was an emotional scene. Tears were flowing. These guys had all gone through a lot together. Three playoff runs. Beating Harlan twice in a row for the first time in Creston history. A district championship their sophomore year. Summer weights. Summer 7-on-7 sessions. Camp week in brutal heat. Playoff practices in wet, cold conditions.
It’s hard to let go when you’ve become family with a group of people working for the same goals. This group really wanted to lead Creston’s first team to the UNI-Dome.
But, you have no control over the quality of your opponent, and Bishop Heelan is a cut above. State runner-up last year, perhaps state champions this year.
I felt guilty having to do my postgame interview with coach Morrison right after that embrace with the seniors, because it was as emotional for him as for the kids. But, deadline duty trumped sympathy, and I plodded on. Coach Morrison was gracious with his time, and thoughtful answers, as always.
It was fun to bump into Morningside’s Smith, the former Panther. He’s pumped for his own team’s title quest, as the No. 1-ranked Mustangs could be headed for a showdown against No. 3-ranked Grand View come playoff time.
I also spoke briefly with former Panther standout Luke Neitzel, who had begun a college basketball career with former Creston teammate Trey Thomsen at Simpson College.
Neitzel, a two-time all-state football player and believed to be the program’s all-time leading rusher with 3,104 yards, is changing schools, and sports.
Neitzel said he is transferring to Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs at the semester break to join the Reivers’ football team. He’s projected as a safety. It’s a two-year school, and Neitzel will still have four years of eligibility.
Neitzel told me he likes school at Simpson, but he admitted he missed football. He seems very eager to get the pads back on.
Former Panther football assistant John Rose had some interesting, and poignant comments about the Iowa playoff system after congratulating the Panthers for their successful season on Facebook.
“I am happy that the Panthers were in the playoffs,” he said. “But I cannot help but think that the athletic association is not acting in the best interests of the sport, or the athletes, when they devise a system that puts the fourth-place finisher in a seven-team district on a bus on a school night to travel a great distance to face the first-place finisher.
“The Panthers at least had a winning record, but look at the lopsided scores and the records of many playoff contenders. (Two 4A playoff teams finished 2-8.) In my opinion, we have too many classes of 11-man football, and the playoff system is a joke. It’s all about money.
“When we have to go to seven teams in 3A districts, it is time to acknowledge demographic trends in this state. We should go back to four classes of 11-man football, and allow those who cannot compete to play eight-man, or better yet, nine-man, which is a much better game than eight-man.”
Rose went on to explain that he’s seen his nephew in Minnesota play the nine-man version, and with two running backs and a wide receiver, or a running back and two wide receivers, it’s a lot more like real football than eight-man.
I’m intrigued by that proposal, but not holding my breath that the state association will reduce classes and tweak the system, and by that I mean disrupt the revenue stream. Fans still travel to watch a 2-7 4A playoff team, and that cash buys trophies and pays bills.
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