Heiar Reflects on Loss, Season
Greg Heiar’s Indians, ranked No. 1 in the nation throughout most of the season, took a 30-game winning streak and the full weight of great expectations into last week’s NJCAA tournament in Hutchinson, Kan.
After winning their first two games comfortably and leading late in the semifinals against Salt Lake, the Indians appeared set to meet those expectations and bring home their first-ever national championship.
A week later, the Indians and coach Greg Heiar are left to wonder what went wrong.
Chipola gave up that late lead — 67-62 with 4:37 to play — to eventual-champion Salt Lake and had to settle for third place in the tournament.
That would be reason for celebration for most teams. But for the Indians it was another disappointing end to another stellar season.
“It was an extremely tough game,” Heiar said of the battle with Salt Lake. “It only takes one game for it all to end.
“But we had a wonderful year. To go through the year with the target on your back and still find a way to win all those games and go through a tremendous league like the Panhandle Conference undefeated, it’s a great honor.”
Heiar said he felt the pressure of being the favorite all year finally started to get to his team, with Saturday’s blowout win in the consolation game serving as proof for the fifth-year Chipola coach.
“How we bounced back on Saturday says a lot about these kids and a lot about how much pressure was on them to win 32 in a row, to be No. 1 team in
country all year, to be favored for the tourney, to hear everyone come up to them and say, ‘You’re going to win it all,’ it’s amazing,” the coach said. “The pressure that was lifted after they got beat ... the team on Saturday, that was my team.”
“But this is going to help them down the road in their lives in dealing with pressure. I really believe that.”
Chipola was outscored 16-6 to close the game
Salt Lake went on to beat Midland 67-60 for the national championship.
“They were really good, really well-coached,” Heiar said of Salt Lake. “A lot of those kids went on Mormon missions, were gone for two years, then they come back and played, so it’s like playing seniors in college. They had that play-smart ability. They were extremely smart as a team.”
The Indians were victimized consistently in the second half by the Bruins’ star forward DJ Wright, who put up 34 points and 14 rebounds in the win.
“He’s really good,” Heiar said. “He can really score the ball. He just has great touch. He’s a really good player and he hurt us. We were guarding him, but he had to make the plays and he made them.”
For the Indians, it’s another long wait until next year when they will surely bring back another talented team that will again look to make history.
Heiar said his ultimate goal has not changed, but that he has not lost sight of the bigger picture.
“My goal as a coach is still to win a national championship, but that’s not the reason why I coach,” he said. “I’m excited about the direction of the program, where it’s going and the kind of kids we can get.
“I’m looking forward to the future, wherever it lies. This program is moving in the right direction and you’ve got to be excited for that. These kids worked so hard all year to make this college and community proud.”