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Chipola Sophomores Looking for Redemption

By Dustin Kent

 

In the 2007-08 season, the Chipola Indians won a school-record 35 games, a fifth straight Panhandle Conference title and a fourth state championship in five seasons.


For Chipola’s four returning sophomores, it wasn’t enough.

A shocking first-round loss to Seward County in the national tournament prevented the Indians from accomplishing their ultimate goal: a national championship.

It’s a goal that Chipola sophomores Casey Mitchell, Gary Flowers, Torye Pelham and Jon Kreft are determined to achieve in 2009.

“It would mean a lot to be the first (Chipola) team to do it,” Pelham said of winning it all in Hutchinson, Kan. “(Last year’s loss) is still in the back of our heads. It sticks with us.”

Mitchell said the same.

“The feeling has still been sitting in my stomach,” he said of the loss. “We need to get back there for the national championship.”

Flowers said getting back to Hutchinson and winning would take a deeper drive and determination than before.

“We have to want it more, period,” the sophomore forward said. “We did what we had to do to get there, but (Seward) wanted it more than we did.”

Flowers, who fouled out in the Indians’ only two losses last year, said that the loss was the main reason why he decided to return to Chipola for his sophomore season.

“I wanted to leave Chipola with certain accolades under my belt and I didn’t do that,” he said. “I want to leave here with a national title and we didn’t get that done last year.”

Chipola coach Greg Heiar said that having his team’s national title dreams dashed in such an abrupt fashion was devastating.

“That hurt,” the coach said. “But it’s driven the sophomores all offseason. They’ve all worked extremely hard to prevent that from happening again.”

The work seems to be paying off. Heiar called Pelham “the most-improved player that I’ve ever coached from one year to the next.”

“I just work hard every day to get better,” Pelham said. “I try to do the little things you have to do. I’m trying to shoot it, take guys off the dribble, stuff I didn’t do last year.”

Mitchell, a 6-foot-5 guard who is a preseason All-American, said he shed 30 pounds in the offseason in an attempt to get quicker and better as a player.

“I think (losing the weight) has made me a better defender,” he said, “and I can go to the basket more instead of relying on my jumper.”

Mitchell said what he and his fellow sophomores contribute between games is just as important.

“My role this year is to be more of a leader on and off the court,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of young players, who are very talented and we expect a lot from them.

“If (the sophomores) can get the freshmen on board with us like I think we will, we’ve got a good chance to have a great season.”

For Flowers, a great season has only one definition.

“It’s a national championship or a disappointment,” he said.

Pelham said a national crown would mean just as much to last year’s team as it would to this team, though last year’s experience taught him just how difficult winning it all will be.

“I think we learned that we can get there, but as good as you are, it won’t be easy. You have to play hard for 40 minutes, play harder (than the opponent),” he said. “The sophomores that left want us to do it just as much as we want it. It would be for us and them.”

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