It has been a while since Valmeyer athletics has seen a year in sports like this. In the fall, the junior high baseball team won its regional and advanced to state, the high school girls volleyball team made its first state appearance and now, this winter, the junior high boys basketball team won its Regional and made it to State.
“I told the boys, ‘Get used to it because you are going to be back,’” junior high coach Mike McCarthy relayed to his team after their first State appearance Friday.
Although the team fell to Cairo by a heartbreaking one point, 48-47, at Rend Lake College Friday, the team and last week’s Republic-Times Team of the Week proved the program is moving in the right direction.
“The first time playing at a State game, they were kind of overwhelmed” McCarthy explained that his team did not come out playing well and were down by 16 at half. But they came out strong and played well the second half, posting a convincing comeback that just came up short.
“They were devastated,” McCarthy said. “Those kids wanted to win really bad.”
But that winning mentality is something that Valmeyer and its fans have been longing to get back.
McCarthy said there was a strong fan base that traveled to Rend Lake College Friday, many of which did not have kids of their own playing in the game. The fans told him that they “believe (the Pirates) can win,” and that they “have not seen that passion on the floor in basketball in a long time.”The Valmeyer boys basketball team huddles up at the state game Friday. (submitted photo)
The junior high Pirates have seen a strong and quick turn-around from their 2-22 season last year, to a 16-4 season this year with a regional win and state appearance to add to it. McCarthy praises his core of four eighth graders and two seventh graders, along with the supporting cast of players, for sticking together. He says he encourages the group of kids to not pigeon hole themselves into being one-sport athletes. In a small school like Valmeyer, the school’s athletic programs can’t afford for kids to play only one sport.
The premise of the kids playing together and growing athletically together through grade school and beyond is something McCarthy has seen work for Valmeyer in the past.
The 1989 VHS grad took part in near 20-win seasons his sophomore, junior and senior years as a Pirate. He attributes a lot of his coaching tactics to his former coach and that of long-time Pirate coach, and now Gibault basketball assistant coach, Terry Souchek.
McCarthy’s and Valmeyer’s goal is now to get back to those winning ways and translate the junior high success to the high school level.
In other words, he tells his team, “expect to be back.”