Friday, February 17, 2012

Why losing could be good for No. 1 Olympic

The 1986 West Charlotte Lions can rest a little easy for another year.

There won't be another unbeaten 4A team from Mecklenburg County, at least not this year. The Lions, who won the '86 state title, were the last boys public school team from Mecklenburg to finish the season unbeaten.

This year, Olympic was having the greatest season -- in any sport -- the school had ever had and it was mounting a serious challenge to the Lions 26-year-old record.

Olympic's unbeaten dream ended Friday night.

Harding High, No. 3 in the Sweet 16, beat No. 1 Olympic Friday night in a thrilling ME-GA 7 championship game 61-55. The overtime loss ended Olympic's 52-game win streak against conference opponents.

But is losing good for the Trojans?

I was interviewing Olympic coach Ty Baumgardner Friday afternoon for an upcoming story and asked him if he felt losing before the playoffs might help take some of the pressure off.

His answer was emphatic -- and quick.

"No," he said. "I understand people's train of thought. They think that (losing) will get you refocused. Not with this group. I'm telling you. This group is special. They have been focused every single game and they are so locked in and so tight, it's a really tight group. I don't know if they know what pressure is to be honest with you. We're going to try to win the next game, then the next game. We've just been fortunate that we've won a lot of next games."

I remember Hopewell was similarly unbeaten, and similarly challenged, a few years ago when Harvard point guard Brandyn Curry was a junior in high school and the Titans were rolling like Olympic is now. Hopewell coach Eric Davis said to me then all the same things that Baumgardner said this afternoon.

He didn't want to lose either.

Hopewell was as talented as any Mecklenburg County team in the past 10 years, and the Titans played so loose and free in the regular-season. In the postseason, they played tighter and tighter as the playoffs wore on and the pressure of The Unbeaten Season grew. Ultimately, Hopewell lost in the regional championship against a team it should've beaten, looking like a shell of its former self.

This Olympic team, as Baumgardner said, is tough. It's got one of the best players, potentially, in Mecklenburg County history in junior Allerik Freeman, ranked No. 9 in America by ESPN. This loss should naturally refocus the Trojans as well as free them up. And there is no shame in losing to Harding, which has beaten reigning N.C. 4A champ West Charlotte at home and will now probably be elevated to a favorite's role in the 3A state championship race.

Here's where this could help Olympic, which lost in the state quarterfinals last year.

The players don't have to worry about being the guy who blows The Streak -- at the same time they're already worried about being the guy who blows a shot at states. Winning state is pressure enough. Also now, other teams won't come at Olympic with the same ferocity the Trojans have faced every night up to now.

I don't think Olympic's any worse now than they were Thursday afternoon. They'll probably fall out of USA Today's top 25 and drop from the top perch in the state polls and the Sweet 16, but they'll still be on a short list of the top teams in the state. And if you can go unbeaten -- when you're everybody's Super Bowl and get everyone's best effort -- what happens when you're not?

We're about to find out. The playoffs await. Olympic's new journey starts Monday night.


Anonymous said...

No coach wants to lose. It is hard to pick your team up after a hard game.

Anonymous said...

Of course no coach wants to lose. But, the players lose an edge as a winning streak continues...they start to believe they will "just win" every game rather than do what they did to get that win streak in the first place.