How often in sports do you hear one heavily favoured team utter the words about its opponent: “We can’t take this team lightly?”
If it wasn’t for upsets, games would be no fun. More often than not the favoured team will win. After all, the reason teams are the favourite is because recent history indicates they are the better team. When a team is in the favourite position and are expected to win against a weaker opponent they face the challenge of mental preparation. In other words, can the expected winner get as ready as they would against a more difficult opponent? Human nature often indicates an athlete or team only elevates its preparedness based on the strength of the opposition.
For instance, The UNBC Lady Timberwolves met a cruel fate to their BCCAA basketball season as they failed to live up to their favourites role in their only playoff game. The T-Wolves, under the direction of head coach Loralyn Murdoch, finished the regular season 11-5 (third place). In fact, UNBC believed it had an excellent chance of reaching the league final and a berth in the nationals in Edmonton. All they had to do was beat the 6-10 Camosun Chargers and 12-4 Langara. I’ll admit, I thought it was a foregone conclusion they would beat the Victoria based Chargers. After all, they trounced Camosun 93-57 and 83-56 in their two November meetings.
In the third quarter of this game, things were going according to schedule with UNBC ahead by 16. But the lead was down to five entering the final quarter thanks in part to the Chargers full court press. This tactic paid dividends and when the buzzer sounded it was Camosun 56-UNBC 54.
So, did the T-Wolves underestimate their opponent? After watching the game film, Murdoch said: “I don’t think we ever took Camosun lightly. I think the fact we did have some success against them is always kind of in the back of your mind. I think it’s always a bit hard when you do beat a team by 25 or 30 points to not kind of go, yeah we should win that.’ I don’t think we would prepare any differently if we were to play them again except maybe to focus in on what we do well.”
Murdoch (to her credit) accepts some responsibility for letting a big second half lead slip by saying: “There was a combination of a few things that happened. We got really tight. We didn’t see some success in our offence that we usually have and that then translated into us being very tentative on defence. We then started to foul a little bit and got frustrated. It just snowballed. Everyone was just playing in a fog, coaching staff included. I think I needed to do a better job to get the troops rallied and getting them back focused.” (Camosun, by the way, lost its semifinal game to Langara 60-54 and Langara lost the final to Okanagan 49-38)
Upsets do happen in all levels of sports. Another recent example had the WHL’s worst team, Portland Winterhawks, winning 5-2 over the league’s best team, the Silvertips and that game was in Everett.
Pulling off an upset is a great feeling. But when your team is on the other end and is the upset victim in an important game, the agony of defeat can last days, weeks and even months. Just ask the Lady Timberwolves.
Hartley Miller is the sports director for radio stations 94X and the Wolf@97fm. He also writes for Opinion250.