State heartbreak

The State Tournament ends early for the Lady Vikes due to Covid-19

The 2019-2020 Lady Vikings Basketball team was on the path to a state championship, when their season had an abrupt stop due to COVID-19.

Over the course of the season, the Lady Vikes had a record of 17-3, earning them the number one seed in the sub-state part of the post season tournament. Seaman went on to win both of their sub-state games, becoming sub-state champions for the second year in a row.

The girls then began to work even harder over the majority of spring break, anxiously awaiting the quarterfinal game on Thursday, March 12th. They spent every day leading up to the game practicing long and hard, having team bonding and team dinners. They were prepared to go all the way to the final game of the tournament to earn themselves the title of 5A state champions.

As Thursday approached, COVID-19 was becoming the hot-topic of the nation. As more and more cases were identified across the US, people’s anxiety grew. Colleges such as KSU and KU extended their students’ spring break for another week, for initial precautions. Talk of whether high schools would do the same was up in the air.

On Wednesday, March 11th, President Trump made a national announcement addressing COVID-19 and what the US is doing to prevent its spread. He declared that travel in and out of Europe would be banned for at least 30 days, and he reminded citizens to stay home if they are sick, wash their hands, and stay educated and updated with the virus.

At Emporia State University’s White Auditorium, the Lady Vikings were ready to take on their opponent, Maize, and advance to the semi-final game. Parents and students filled the stands, ready to cheer them to victory, only to find out shocking news by half-time.

While the teams were in the locker room, strategizing for the second half, spectators were notified that the remainder of the state tournaments in Kansas were cancelled. The Kansas State High School Activities Association, KSHSAA, put out an official statement that “after the conclusion of the quarterfinal round, the 2020 KSHSAA State Basketball Tournament will be cancelled. Given the escalating concerns regarding COVID-19, the best decision for the safety of the student-athletes and spectators was to cancel the remainder of this championship tournament.” Although the spectators knew, the players had no idea.

Coach Tinsely said, “It was an “awful feeling: one that I don’t want to experience again.”

He decided it was best for himself and the rest of the team to hold the news until the end of the game. Tinsley wanted to watch continue to coach and watch the girls do what they do best for one last game. The Lady Vikings continued to play to advance to Friday’s Semifinal game, and ended with a win over Maize, 54-44.

Chole Carter, senior, said, “As a student athlete your goal is to win state no matter what sport you are playing. We were one step closer to that goal and I was excited for our future. We beat a talented team to get into the final four and my teammates and I were on top of the world.”

After the game, the girls were ecstatic, thinking that they were one step closer to becoming state champions. As they made their way to the locker room, fans knew they were about to receive the heartbreaking news that their season was over.

“When Tinsley came in and broke the news to us, it went from one of the best days of my life to easily the worst. As a senior so many thoughts went through my head. I had just played my last high school game ever. I would never get to play with my best friends again and I would never get to reach my ultimate goal of winning state. It was heartbreaking to all of us,” stated Carter.

Players stated they celebrated for merely two minutes, before head coach Matt Tinsley came in to break the news.

“In this situation there is no coach’s handbook or manual that you can refer back to on how to handle tough moments.  I knew I had to be honest with them and tell them about the current situation we were facing, and also know that they would be looking at the coaches for guidance on how to react.  I sat down on a stool in front of them and told them the season has been cancelled,” said Tinsley.

Initially, the team thought Tinsley was joking, but soon realized that he was serious.

“All emotions of sadness, confusion, and anger were appropriate given the circumstances.  I told them that there was nothing I could tell them that could make this situation any better, but that family goes through tough times and when they do, they lean on family members for support.  Our team is a family.  In fact, during the season I probably spend more time with the girls on the team during the week than I get to see my own children, but I can’t think of a better group to spend my time with during the season. That’s what is special about this group of girls, they truly care about each other and just wanted to win.  Our goal to start the season was to win a championship and we did that!” said Tinsley.

The girls were devastated, especially the four seniors, Chloe Carter, Sophie Sparks, Maddie Steiner, and Riley Polter, given they had just played their last high school basketball game without knowing it.

Earlier in their season, the Lady Vikes had practice cutting down the basket nets while listening to the song “One Shining Moment” just like at the end of the NCAA Championship game. Coach Tinsely felt if the team wanted to achieve success, they needed to have a mental picture of themselves succeeding, seeing themselves as champions. Given KSHSAA does not allow the cutting down of nets at the state tournament, he had the team, their families and fans come back to see them cut down a net at Seaman High School Thursday night.

Each girl climbed a ladder to cut a part of the net off to keep, as Matt Tinsely shared his feelings over the season. He saw the girls in his eyes as State Champions.

“By cutting down the nets that allowed us to celebrate our accomplishments and bring forth a positive closure on a remarkable season – a definite one shining moment!  The girls deserve all the credit. There is a saying that ordinary people can do extraordinary things. That’s true with this team.  They had one common goal and when everyone is focused on that goal then success can happen.”

The team appreciated this gesture and the support of their families and friends.

“In a way we got closure by cutting down our home court net in front of our parents, coaches and friends. My teammates and I have felt more support throughout this year than ever and we can not thank everyone enough for helping us through this difficult end to a great season,” says Carter.

Moving forward, Coach Tinsley hopes that no one dwells on “what could have been” but focuses on what was a remarkable season.

“Looking at the season and all the memories made and the fact in knowing that we are considered one  of the best teams in the State and of the best teams in Seaman girls basketball history that spans 46 years! That’s something to be proud of!  What I can’t change I put in God’s hands and don’t look back, because in order to look back we have to stop moving forward.”

Friday morning, the girls were asked to come back to Seaman to film a special for local news station, KSNT, over their season and how of a unique ending it had and were even recognized on ESPN.

While winning State was the ultimate goal, the team does not need a trophy to know they are champions.

Coach Tinsley said it best: “Trophies collect dust and memories last forever.”