There’s a down note to reaching the playoffs in a team sport.
Only one team ends its season on a winning note.
West Valley coach Craig Whitney was dealing with that aspect of high school football. His Eagles lost to perennial power Lynden, 34-21, in the Class 2A quarterfinals Saturday at Gonzaga Prep.
“I want our kids to have all those fun memories of the 10 wins they had and all the hard work they put in to get there,” he said. “I don’t want them to dwell on a last-game loss to a team like Lynden.
“It’s hard for our seniors. They worked so hard to get us here and you hate for their final memory to be a loss.”
It was a difficult Sunday at the Whitney house for the coach’s son, Connor.
“He was pretty bummed and was kind of moping around the house,” Craig Whitney said. “I asked him if he’d watched the tape and figured out why we lost. He said, ‘Yeah, three times.’ I’d only watched it once, so we sat down and dissected it a little together.”
Part of it’s genetics, he said.
“You look at (Lynden) on paper and you look at them on film and you think to yourself, ‘Those guys are big,’ ” he said. “And then you see them in person and they’re really big.”
It’s an experience the Eagles have had before.
“Lynden beat us in the 2009 state title game, 16-6,” Whitney said. “And they got us again.”
Along the way this season, several members of the 2009 team reached out to this year’s Eagles, Whitney said.
And there’s even been a groundswell of support from the players on the 1976 state championship team – as well as a celebration of the 40th anniversary of that title.
“There is a lot of school pride out there,” he said.
Whitney likes to say that it takes a lot of hard work from a lot of sources to win a single football game – from parents, teachers, coaches and kids.
To win 10 games?
“We like to preach multisport athletes,” he said. “Wrestling and basketball started last week and we have a bunch of kids who were sitting out that first week of winter practice getting ready to play Saturday.
“It’s a good thing for our school. Kids who play multiple sports tend to be competitive and they work hard. We stress that. Our success starts with having kids active and participating on other sports, and stressing academics is a year-around deal.”
The Eagles got a great start on the season with their spring and summer programs and with a strong showing at the University of Idaho football camp.
That work, along with a strength and conditioning program the entire program has bought into, created the foundation for the season.
“You have to be lucky,” Whitney said. “We did not have a single serious injury all season long. We had a few dings here and there, but we didn’t have anyone miss a significant amount of time. We suited up 46 kids Saturday.”
And then there’s the hard work put in by its 13 seniors.
“They all lead in different ways,” the coach said. “Some of them are vocal and boisterous and others like to let their play speak for them. But they all found a way to lead.”
Whitney said he’s proud of how his team reacted to a tough, home-field loss to Pullman in league play by rallying and finishing the season strong.
“Our goal was to win the league title, and that’s no easy task,” he said. “Every game in our league is like a playoff game. We were able to win out and get the No. 2 seed into the playoffs. We had to play a Tuesday game and beat Othello and then turn around and travel to Franklin Pierce on Saturday.”
West Valley beat a high-powered team in Franklin Pierce in a 44-41 shootout before coming home to face Lynden at Gonzaga Prep.
“We handled that road game at Franklin Pierce wonderfully,” Whitney said. “We have some kids who had never played a game on that side of the mountains before and some who had never spent a night in a hotel like that before. I am so proud of how we responded. I hope that game stands out in their memory more than the loss to Lynden.”
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.