Luke Graham: Sailors embody toughness

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Luke Graham

Luke Graham's column appears periodically in the Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4229 or lgraham@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Luke here.

It's easy to hang your head after a loss.

Plain and simple, losing sucks.

But if you're a member of the Steamboat Springs High School boys basketball team, hanging your head is the last thing you should do.

After all, hanging heads is the last thing this team's about. This year's Sailors may have been the most physically and mentally tough team I've seen at the high school basketball level.

And perhaps the defining moment of the team's season was toward the end of Friday's Sweet 16 loss to D'Evelyn.

With the Jaguars set to inbound the ball underneath their own basket, a D'Evelyn player grabbed senior Tanner Stillwell's arm and pulled him away from the basket. Stillwell shrieked in pain, looked at his thumb and bent toward the floor. While coach Kelly Meek looked to the bench, Stillwell played with his injured finger and told Meek he was OK to keep playing.

It didn't matter that Stillwell's thumb looked like a boiled bratwurst after the game - or that if Steamboat had won, he probably would have had to sit out the rest of the playoffs. What mattered was that Stillwell embodied the 2006-07 Sailors in that 20-second period.

A D'Evelyn fan who sat next to me during the game grimaced at the play, looked up and said, "That kid's crazy for staying in."

Not crazy. Like the rest of the Sailors, Stillwell would do anything to win.

The list of injuries the Sailors suffered this year seemed never-ending. Point guard Michael Vandahl hurt his knee before the season and then played half the year with a thumb that, at times, couldn't move. Then, in the game against Montrose, Vandahl suffered an injury to the arch of his foot that kept him out of practice for half of the week leading up to the D'Evelyn game.

Leading scorer Aaron Calkins battled ankle injuries all year. At one point of the season, he turned his ankle in a practice before a road trip and then promptly scored 25 points against Palisade the next night.

Stillwell battled leg injuries all year. The Sailors lost sixth man Richie Keith to a ACL tear early in the season. Most players on the team battled flu-like symptoms at some point and never missed a game.

And mental toughness?

Down 11 points heading into the fourth quarter of a road playoff game (although the game was in Broomfield, D'Evelyn probably had more than 500 people at the game, 300 of which were students who remained on their feet throughout), the Sailors made it a game until the final buzzer and even had a shot to win it or tie it with 25 seconds left.

While some players are already preparing for next season and some are ready to move on to college, Steamboat shouldn't think the D'Evelyn game defined its season.

It didn't.

Being true to one another, winning 18 games in a row and always keeping their heads up defined the season.

- To reach Luke Graham, call 871-4229

or e-mail lgraham@steamboatpilot.com

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