Vidakovich column: Thinking back to March 4, 1995

Mike Vidakovich
Mike Vidakovich

It seems like just yesterday, but it has been almost 25 years since I stood on the sideline of the Mesa College field house and helplessly watched as a girl from Fruita Monument High School arched a 10-foot shot from the baseline right as the buzzer sounded to finalize the game, and end the district championship hopes of the Glenwood girls’ basketball team.

I could tell from my vantage point that the shot was going in, so it was no surprise when the net wiggled and the ball dropped harmlessly to the hardwood, giving the Wildcats a one-point win over the Demons. As Elvis might say, it was heartbreak hotel.

I was the coach of that talented Demon team; a group that would finish the season at 20-3 a week later with another anguishing loss at Lewis Palmer in the regional round of the 4A state playoffs. The two seniors on that squad, Casey Hailey and Tara Burke were two of the finest young women I had ever been associated with.

I had failed in my promise of the previous summer to guide them to the state tournament, or “the promised land,” as we often called it.

You may be thinking that we actually did make the state tournament that year, and I guess by today’s standards of qualifying almost every team in every classification for “state,” that I had indeed lived up to my promise. Back then, the final eight teams going to Denver were considered state-bound, and really, that’s how I still view it today.

I can’t seem to ever replace that memory of March 4, 1995 with something a bit more hopeful and bright. I still think about that entire game, and especially the last 6 seconds more often than I should. We were dominating the contest, leading by 12 points just before halftime when foul trouble struck some key players, allowing the momentum to shift to the Wildcats. We never could shake them for the entire second half as a district title and home court in the regional round were at stake. Still, we clung to a one-point lead following a long corner 3-pointer by junior guard Chelci Bruno. The clock showed 6.2 ticks to go in front of a large, standing-room-only crowd.

To this day, I do believe, and will always think this way, that I cost my team the game by getting a bit too flustered by the big moment. Fruita had called for timeout following Chelci’s shot, and they had the length of the court to travel. Hindsight tells me very clearly that we should just have prevented them from rolling the ball in bounds and then dropped back into a 1-3-1 zone. Fruita would have had to chuck one from the cheap seats, greatly reducing their chances of victory.

If I said it once in the timeout huddle, I said it a million times, telling the girls not to foul and to pick up full-court man-to-man. Well, that was just what the basketball gods ordered for the Wildcats, as their jitterbug guard went right through our defense and dropped the ball off near the baseline to a wide open post player.

As I write this, I can visualize that moment with crystal clarity. My heart turns and my stomach rumbles, but I can’t change the past. If only I could.

What made swallowing that defeat even tougher was the fact that Fruita beat Broomfield easily the next weekend at home; the same day our season ended.

Fruita went on to win their first two games at state before losing to Lamar in the championship game at McNichol’s Sports Arena.

We were the better team. That should have been us playing in that game. We could have beaten Lamar, I’m sure of it to this day.

I haven’t seen Tara for many moons. I’m sure she is a great success story. She always was. I see Casey quite often and I usually bring up that game and that day. She smiles at me, shakes her head like I’m a kook, and says “Aw, coach. No big deal.”

Competitors compete. They do this with all of their heart. I have been fortunate to play with, and to coach, many great ones with many wonderful memories. But there is that one memory I can’t ever erase. Maybe it’s because I don’t really want to.

The 25th anniversary of that Saturday in March is almost upon me. I’m sure I will think about the game and still wonder how I could have made things different.

Real competitors, I mean real fighters, don’t ever lose. They just run out of time.

Mike Vidakovich grew up in Glenwood Springs, is a longtime youth basketball coach and is a regular sports contributor for the Post Independent.

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