SMITHTON — Coming into the season, Smithton was a school that had been close to winning district or conference titles several times. The Tigers just couldn’t seem to get over the hump and had to settle for the pain of second place.
Not this year.
“They’re erased,” Smithton coach David Kolzow said. “They know that psychologically they can do it, and now they know what it takes to do it. It takes hard work in practice and it takes being physical and it takes playing defense the right way.”
Smithton’s season-long success and ability to avoid upsets are why Kolzow is The Democrat’s 2007 girls basketball coach of the year. He won the honor for the second time.
“Any coach of the year award belongs to the players,” Kolzow said. “I had the players of the year, this year.”
The Tigers won five championships and erased long droughts in both the Kaysinger Conference and district tournaments.
“I was really honored to be able to play on that team this year,” said senior Alyson Anderson, “for it to be my senior year and be able to win all the championships and to be able to have those accomplishments.”
The players and the coaching came together for a season to remember, with one of the most memorable finishes in district championship history, fulfilling a promise the coach made to his players when he took the Smithton job.
“The very first time that we ever met coach, we were in the gym and we were just in a meeting in the summer and the first thing he said to us was, ‘I’m going to win you girls a district championship,’ ” said junior Sedel Marino, whose school hadn’t won a district title since 1987. “...It was just kind of stunning because none of us had really thought about (the dry spell) before.”
The Tigers claimed the Class 2, District 7, tournament title on a thrilling steal and putback at the buzzer by junior Heather Letourneau.
“That’s about the best finish you’re ever going to see,” Kolzow said.
The win perhaps justified Kolzow’s wardrobe choice for the night. The coach was decked out in a “Master’s green” suit that he called his lucky green jacket.
“(It) was the first jacket given to me by my coach my first year coaching,” Kolzow said. “It symbolizes Celtic green and I’ve won several district championships in it. I’ve always liked the jacket and thought that it was the one to go with that night.”
Good choice. Perhaps the Celtic green helped play a role in the ball falling out of a Russellville player’s hands and landing at Letourneau’s feet, setting up the 52-50 win against Russellville.
“Wearing that jacket, we have never lost a district,” Kolzow said, referring to teams he’s coached at previous schools. “So I just decided we’re going to throw it out. If I had to go get a rabbit’s foot or a lucky charm, whatever. For these girls, we’ll do it and I don’t think it was so much luck as it was talent.”
The talent included two first-team selections to The Sedalia Democrat’s 2007 All-Area team in Alina Voronenko and Letourneau. The Tigers (25-2) started basically the same five players all season. Marino, Whitney Kahrs and Jillian Burrows filled out the lineup with Voronenko and Letourneau.
Smithton claimed its first title in the Otterville tournament in early January, beating Russellville.
“I think winning the first championship at Otterville really gave us a lot of confidence going through the rest of the season,” said Anderson, who gave the Tigers a spark off the bench.
That confidence helped the Tigers win the Windsor tournament and then roll through the Kaysinger Conference regular season. Smithton won the Kaysinger Conference tournament, erasing a drought that lasted 21 years. The Tigers beat Lincoln 64-41 in the title game.
“We felt like this was one of those seasons that you’d see in a movie or something, where you have the coach with the perfect pep talk that put you all into the game,” said Marino. “Then you have the games that are so close and then you end out on top and it was just like, perfect.”