One More Jam

Forty seconds on the game clock and no time outs, I’m faced with an uncomfortable decision. Down 15 points, I can stop the clock with my official review at 40 seconds or I can let the jam tick over naturally. But I have to decide now, because every second I take is a second lost. And yes, this may be the most important decision I make the entire tournament.

This is the situation in the last jam of our 2016 Wichita D2 game versus Jet City — a formidable team that had held a commanding lead all game long. In the last few jams of the game, we’d managed to surge forward, and everything was going to come down to one more jam. And here I am, like a lump, not calling a time out. My bench coach asks privately, “Are you sure?”*

The announcers were flummoxed, and several articles have been written on the subject, but for me, it was never a question.

You might ask, why keep the official review? But of course there are many errors that can affect the outcome of a game. Points not correctly awarded. Points awarded incorrectly. A jam being called off for injury without an additional jam being provided. Any of these could swing the balance. Some of these could result in extra jams, even after the game clock has run out. Official reviews are valuable, and if you treat them as just a variant of time out, you aren’t using them correctly.

Coaching a team is subject to forces strange and varied. It took me the better part of a season to realize that neither talent nor technical skill were the biggest obstacles to our team’s success. It was, instead, our mental game. The ability to rebound, to come together and do the hard work despite any opposition, in any circumstance. The Jet City game was a fine moment for us. Last year’s Boulder County Bombers would’ve turned on itself, fighting over who was the most to blame. But this year, we turned in our best performance ever, winning three out of four games, and bringing the fourth within 15 points.

I don’t bring that up to brag but to provide context. On the bench, it’s clear that we only have one more jam. Whether I call a time out at 40 seconds or wait until 10, whoever gets lead decides when the game ends. If it’s us, the clock runs until we win or two minutes are up. If it’s them, they get under the 30 second mark, and call off the jam. This is as pure as derby gets. Fight hard and may the best team win. One more jam.

Our gals are ready to step up. They’re determined. All they want is a fair shot. If I take the time out, I might deprive them of that. And more importantly, I don’t give them anything of value. This all comes down to whoever gets lead — a situation which would repeat itself later in the tournament, in our win against Houston.

We held Ivana Hercha long enough for Smashalotapus to emerge first. But Ivana managed to squeak around our last blocker’s hips before that’d happened, despite ultimately getting recycled. And that was the game. From my track-side vantage, it looked like Smash should have been assigned lead. My official review had challenged the lead call— from what I’m told, if I’d won the review, another jam might have been held—but looking at the footage, the referee** was completely right.

Even now, I would handle the situation the same. It’s okay to lose to a tough opponent. What matters is whether you fought as hard as you can. By not wasting the official review for a meaningless thirty seconds, I had my team’s back all the way to the end.

* I have no end of excellent things to say about my bench coach Chet-I-Knight. Find someone who will challenge you to be your best.

** Even at the time, I felt like the refereeing at D2 was exceptional this year, but watching the footage, I almost got angry at how excellent they were. Great work by the officials.