By CLAUDE SCILLEY
A person’s experiences don’t mean anything, Paul Coulter believes. It’s what you do with them, he says, that shapes us.
“My hope is we’re going to be better for that loss yesterday,” the Kingston Impact coach told his players before their game Saturday morning at the Juel of Ontario basketball championship tournament.
“It might be today.”
It turned out that it was.
In the wake of a devastating tournament-opening loss Friday to the Scarborough Blues, the Impact, the 13th-ranked team at the 14-team competition at Queen’s University, upset the No. 2 North Toronto Huskies, 59-52.
“It was a signature win, to beat a team like that,” Coulter said. “The biggest win, the highlight of our franchise, you can put any kind of ribbon around it—it was a massive win for our small town in Kingston.
“North Toronto won the second-most games of any team in the province, and we beat them by seven in the provincial final. That game against the Blues allowed us to have that moment, to have that mental toughness to have them ready for this game.”
Coulter now recalls that Friday game with a little less anguish, but it was a crushing defeat. Leading by 10 points with eight minutes left in the game, the Impact was outscored 21-4 by the Blues in the next six minutes as they lost 66-58.
Saturday morning, Coulter tried to put that outcome into perspective.
“I told the girls that game, as crappy as it was, as hard as it was to lose like that … it’s an experience that we need to make us better as players, whether it be in your high school season next year, or maybe even right now, in the next two hours.
“The next time, if you’re ever in a game in the fourth quarter and it’s within your grasp, you have to play not to lose but to hold your heads high and believe you can win.”
The Impact did exactly that in a back-and-forth game that turned on a hunch by assistant coach Kirsti Siltanen, who urged Coulter to try using a zone defence in the second quarter, at a point when Kingston trailed by 10 points.
“That was a huge turning point,” Coulter said. “When we went to a zone, we frustrated them. Our girls executed it and we put them out of their rhythm.”
Kingston had turned that 10-point deficit into a six-point lead late in the fourth quarter, when North Toronto hit a three-point basket that cut the Impact’s lead in half. Coulter called time out, as he had at a similar point in the Friday loss.
“Against the Blues my biggest problem was we looked defeated already,” he said. “When we came off the court (Saturday), the girls’ whole demeanor (was different). Their heads were high; they didn’t say, ‘Coach, we’ve got this,’ but you just knew that they believed they were going to do this.”
It’s an attitude that no doubt partly had its genesis in a game last month, where the Impact took the Huskies to overtime before ultimately being defeated, but Coulter believes it couldn’t have happened without tasting the bitter defeat of the previous afternoon.
“I firmly believe that, as crappy as it is to lose a game like that, that experience set us up to say, ‘We can do this, we can handle this, we have this. We’re only up by three but who cares if it’s the No. 2 team? We are in control of this and we are not going to play not to lose, we’re playing to win. This is all up to us.’
“You saw it in their eyes.”
Instead of meekly succumbing, the Impact promptly took the lead from three points to 10, with 30 second to play.
“We didn’t just hang on, we put it to them,” Coulter said.
“Wow. What resilience from these girls, learning from an incredibly heart-breaking loss, and doing the absolute opposite, against a far-better, statistically, team.”
The morning victory sent the Impact into an afternoon contest with Hamilton Blessed Sacrament, a game Kingston lost 68-54. The Impact trailed by just four points heading into the fourth quarter of a game Coulter described as a dogfight.
Blessed Sacrement, 6-20 in the regular season, one game better than the Impact, put the game away with an impressive display of shooting in the final period. “One coach said, ‘Did they shoot 80 per cent?’” Coulter said. “They didn’t shoot 80 per cent, but it felt like that at times.
“Once in a while, if someone makes a shot, even though you’ve communicated, and you switched and you’re in their face, and they’re still able to pull the trigger—you know what? Someone just played better than us today.
“It wasn’t for lack of execution or will (that we lost). They were just making tough shots and we were missing shots that we normally make.”
For Coulter, the setback didn’t diminish the significance of what's transpired this weekend.
“We are playing on Sunday and the Kingston Impact has never played a Sunday game before at this tournament,” said Coulter, whose team will face Niagara, 8-18, at 12:30 in a game that will determine its final placing for the year.
“It was great for the girls, great for our program. (In five years) no one has ever had a win like that, against a No. 2 team in the province.”
The Impact and Niagara traded victories this year, Kingston winning by four points and losing by one in consecutive weekends in early March.
In Juel Prep division play Saturday morning, Kingston bowed 69-58 to the London Ramblers. That will send the Impact into a game against North Toronto, also 0-2, at 10:30 a.m. Sunday in the Ross Gym at Queen's.