Opinion: Title game loss doesn’t seem to faze MunsenSIOUX FALLS — Gary Munsen’s clean-shaven face didn’t have many signs of disappointment Saturday evening. The longtime coach was in his 13th boys’ state basketball championship game, and his second-seeded team lost to top-seeded O’Gorman 56-49 at Sioux Falls Arena, which held several more fans pulling for the Knights than the Kernels.
By: Luke Hagen, The Daily Republic
SIOUX FALLS — Gary Munsen’s clean-shaven face didn’t have many signs of disappointment Saturday evening.
The longtime coach was in his 13th boys’ state basketball championship game, and his second-seeded team lost to top-seeded O’Gorman 56-49 at Sioux Falls Arena, which held several more fans pulling for the Knights than the Kernels.
While answering post-game questions after the defeat, Munsen only shrugged his shoulders a few times and simply stated O’Gorman was “just the better team.”
There wasn’t sign a of disgust in his voice or much frustration. It almost seemed as it was just another loss for Munsen, who took over the Mitchell boys’ basketball program in the 1973-74 season and has been to 13 state boys’ championship games.
Including Saturday’s game, Munsen’s teams have been on the losing side of four times.
When asked the difference between Saturday’s loss to the other three championship-game losses, Munsen said he wasn’t sure. But he knew that if his team had won, he would have considered it to be one of the biggest upsets in his coaching tenure.
“We’ve had a couple nice upsets … In 1994, we won the tournament as an eight seed,” said Munsen, who’s second on the state’s career all-time wins list. “Roosevelt was the favorite in 1996 and in 1986 we weren’t supposed to win it.”
Even senior guard Ryan Yackley knew the magnitude of a potential win over O’Gorman.
“It would have been a huge upset, because they’re the best team,” Yackley said. “They had an undefeated season, besides Findlay Prep or whatever, but they are a great team and we would have had to play perfect to beat them.”
After Friday night’s semifinal win over Sioux Falls Washington, Munsen was interviewed on South Dakota Public Broadcasting and said his team “better start praying” if it wanted to beat O’Gorman.
Still, Munsen put the Kernels in position to win the game — for one half at least. Early in the second quarter, things were going perfect for Munsen’s squad.
Senior Nick Young hit a jumper to give Mitchell a 17-12 lead. And not even an O’Gorman male student fan who was shirtless and wearing scantily clad bottoms seemed to faze free-throw attempts by Matt Henriksen, who swished both shots. (The fan was quickly escorted from the building to a standing ovation for his courageousness.)
Mitchell held an eight-point lead with 5:37 seconds to go in the second, but O’Gorman went on a 13-3 run before halftime to take a two-point lead into the break.
For the rest of the game, it was pretty much all O’Gorman. But the veteran coach tried to change that. In the fourth quarter, Munsen called three timeouts in a 3-minute, 25-second stretch while O’Gorman was pulling away.
Nothing worked, though.
“We knew (Munsen) had the experience and we knew he was going to prepare us for what we needed to win it,” said Young, who added the loss was the toughest of his career. “We knew what we had to do to win, but we just didn’t execute.”
O’Gorman scored 14 points off Mitchell’s 15 turnovers in the game.
The Knights shot 50 percent from the field and claimed their second straight Class AA state championship. O’Gorman was led by coach and Mitchell native Derek Robey, who after the game said this year’s championship didn’t mean more to him than last year’s, even though it was against his former coach.
“You’re never going to out-coach Munsen,” said Robey, who played basketball for the Kernels and graduated from Mitchell High in 1983. “He puts a team out there that is very, very solid, and we feel fortunate to have won.”
And despite another shot at a championship, regardless of the closeness of the first half and apart from losing the game to a former player, Munsen didn’t seem fazed from any of it after the final horn sounded.
Maybe Munsen’s apparent lack of emotion was because of the length of time he’s been coaching. But is the game getting old hat for the old coach? Not hardly — Munsen will talk or teach basketball to anyone who’s interested.
Munsen, who said he will retire from coaching after next season, said he wasn’t OK with taking second place, but he said it was better than “playing in the sunshine league,” referring to the morning sessions of the state tournament. Although there wasn’t much passion showed from Munsen after Saturday’s loss, it’s nearly a sure bet there will be a different reaction from the coach after next year’s state tournament — win or lose.
As for this year’s team, it was just another season in the long history for Munsen.
“We didn’t win it this year, but that’s life,” Munsen said. “For me, there’s one more chance. But we’ve got a lot of kids back and we’ve got something to build on as far as I’m concerned we should be back in the same position we were tonight.”