HAGEN: Wagner’s loss leads to lessons learnedWagner girls’ basketball coach Mike Koupal didn’t sleep much Monday night.
By: Luke Hagen, The Daily Republic
Wagner girls’ basketball coach Mike Koupal didn’t sleep much Monday night.
Koupal’s Red Raiders went unbeaten in the regular season, but lost in the District 10A championship game Monday night when Parkston junior Logan Wagner hit a game-winning shot to break a tie game near the end of regulation. Parkston beat Wagner 57-54.
On Thursday, Koupal said he was still dealing with the loss emotionally. He added he’ll still be thinking of the game when next weekend’s state girls’ basketball tournaments arrive.
“Unfortunately, it wasn’t the way we wanted our season to end,” Koupal said. “No matter what, our girls believed and learned we were a great team, but that night just wasn’t our night.”
Some great life lessons can be learned from Wagner’s season. For the rest of their lives, every girl on Wagner’s team will remember the way the season went and the way it abruptly ended.
The Red Raiders won all 20 of their regular-season games, beating highly touted teams such as St. Thomas More, West Central and Parkston. During the Parkston Classic, Wagner had no problem with its district rival on the Trojans’ home court. The Red Raiders cruised to a 65-55 victory.
Wagner also beat St. Thomas More 42-36 at the Hanson Classic in a battle of the top-two ranked teams in the state. The Red Raiders overtook St. Thomas More for Class A’s top ranking and remained there for the rest of the season.
Wagner was on top of the basketball world.
Heading into the district tournament, Wagner and Parkston was the anticipated matchup for the championship game. Parkston won the district title each of the two previous years, but this seemed to be Wagner’s year.
But that didn’t matter. When two rival teams match up, anything can happen.
“In a way, it’s almost gotten to be a Duke-North Carolina rivalry,” Parkston girls’ coach Rob Van Laecken said. “That’s the best way I can put it, anyone can win on any night.”
In the last four years, Parkston and Wagner have met in the district tournament three times. All three were nail-biters.
In 2009, Wagner beat Parkston on a shot late in the game to win by one point. That year, the Red Raiders went to the state tournament and were consolation champions. In 2010, Parkston beat Wagner by one point in a game that came down to the final possession.
With the history, it was no surprise Monday’s game in Wagner was another tight matchup. But when Logan Wagner hit the game-winning 3-pointer from the corner, it sent Parkston to the region championship, where they defeated West Central to earn a state tournament berth.
Wagner, after its great season of success, will be watching Parkston and other teams it’s beaten earlier this year from home.
VanLaecken said Wagner was very respectful and gracious after the Red Raiders’ stunning loss in the championship. Koupal said it was probably the toughest loss he’s ever been a part of.
But he said he’s going to learn from it, and he hopes his players take something with them from it.
“The biggest thing you can take from a game like this is things will be going your way some times, and everything is going great, but there’s always a turn in your life when something will change that,” Koupal said. “Things didn’t happen the way we wanted them to, and we have to go on from that and believe in ourselves that we did play well throughout the season. They just played better than we did on that night.”
Wagner Athletic Director Neil Goter coached basketball in Wagner for 13 years, leading the school to two state championships and one runner-up finish. Although it may be cliché, Goter is spot on, saying, “The sun comes up tomorrow.”
He added, “The kids are going to be fine, and the coaching staff will be fine. It’s never easy when the season does not end the way you want it to, but the sun still comes up and life goes on.”
The biggest lesson the Wagner basketball players and coaches can take from a tough loss like Monday night’s is that everyone has to deal with adversity in life. Bad things can happen, and many times they happen when everything is going smoothly.
Painful things happen to everyone, but it’s how you grow from hardships that make you a better person.