St. Helens will have to look for a new source of inspiration, but they may have found it in an old story from Head Coach Billy McKinney

by: JOHN WILLIAM HOWARD - Lions' head coach Billy McKinney had an interesting story to tell his team as they look for a way to continue fighting for their first win. The tale didn't come from his basketball days, but from track and field. If the best lessons are learned through adversity, the St. Helens Lady Lions should turn out to be gems. Already staring down a winless record heading into Wednesday’s bout with Sprague, St. Helens raced out to an 18-point halftime lead before watching it slip away in the final seconds. The Lions (0-7) stumbled in the third quarter and fell silent as Sprague thundered back to take a 51-48 lead and shake the confidence of the young Lions once again.

Head Coach Billy McKinney was understandably frustrated after the loss. It was a weird game, according to McKinney, who said the team responded uncharacteristically and panicked once Sprague started to make their run. In the first half, it was all Rianne Tupper (“Catch, money,” said McKinney), who bombed away for 17 points before the break, but Sprague came out of the locker room with a far different mindset.

The 18 point lead quickly became 12, but without an ability to break the pressure from the Olympians, St. Helens could not hold on to the ball long enough to keep a grip on their lead.

Sprague went on a wild run to close the third quarter, cutting the lead to just seven points entering the final frame. The Lions' offense continued to slow in the fourth, and with less than four minutes remaining, Sprague was within three points. Sprague senior Silvy Kerzman was able to sneak inside the defense with under a minute to play, putting the Olympians on top for the first time since early in the second quarter, and the lead held, with the home team prevailing in dramatic come-from-behind fashion.

The next day, McKinney addressed the team at practice, wary of a hangover from the gut-wrenching loss the previous night. Instead of a stern pep talk, McKinney shared a story from his past - and not from his basketball days, but from his college track career.

“I used to run track before I went to the Olympic trials in ‘84,” McKinney told the team.

Along the way, he saw plenty of a runner he described as a phenomenal deaf Jamaican with whom McKinney competed in the 200 meter run. They ran, and ran, but McKinney always lost. His opponent was just too good.

“I didn’t know what I could do. It’s like, how can I ever beat this dude?” said McKinney. “I could never beat him. I kept telling myself, like, it was a psychological thing to where I was psyched out. I was already in second place when I saw him, I was beat.”

Focusing on the weakest part of his form, which was his start out of the blocks, McKinney put his nose to the grindstone with just one goal in mind: I’ve got to get him. Ever so slowly, he started to get a little closer. He’d stay even for the first 100 meters, but 20 meters out, his opponent would start to pull away.

“I remember we had a conference meet my senior year,” he told the girls. “I beat that dude in the 200, but I had to find something special, deep down inside to get him. I had to really just dig down and find something special.”

From that point on, the task never seemed quite so daunting.

“My psychological defeat was over with,” said McKinney. “My confidence was sky high, because I knew I could get him.”

He hopes to instill the same ideal in his team, and he knows they only need to get one in order for it all to fall into place. The team might not challenge in the league this year, but they have the talent and the will to make some noise. With the youth in the wings, McKinney says the Lions could be the talk of the conference in two years’ time, but it’s all about changing their outlook on the game.


Sprague 51, St. Helens 48

STHL 4 24 12 8 – 48

SPRA 2 8 23 18 – 51

St. Helens (48): Tupper 26, Harcort 4, Reardon 8, Lucy 2, Roth 4, Nolette 2, Maggie 2

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