by Eric Oslund
The 2016-17 season has officially come to an end for the Zimmerman girls basketball team with a 63-51 loss to Willmar in the section finals on Thursday, March 9. It was a heartbreaking way to end the season, and you could see the emotional toll it took on all the players involved.
There was not a dry eye among the Thunder players, but, at the end of the day, that’s how it should be when they lose a game like that. One they have worked the entire season to get to, just to have it slip away in a couple of hours.
“The kids loved each other. They loved playing. It was evident tonight with their cheers and their emotions, and that’s a good thing,” said head coach Lance Dalbey. “I just tried to encourage them, ‘I love to see tears out of you. It tells me that you love your team, love playing basketball, you love what we do.’ The cool part, we said in the locker room, the cool part of athletics and doing something like this is that it takes you to the very high of the highs and the very low of the lows. The coolest thing is the experience of exhilaration if you’re on that winning side. The absolute heartbreak if you’re not, and that’s what we talked about a little bit tonight.”
All season long, the one weakness that the Thunder really had was their size. They had a lot of talented girls on their roster, but not many that could use their size to control the game underneath the basket. Willmar, on the other hand, had multiple girls with size and they used that to their advantage.
They controlled the paint from the start of the game, and quickly jumped out to a 20-7 lead. The Thunder could have rolled over at that point, but give the girls credit. They battled back and took a 25-23 lead with 3:51 remaining in the first half.
It was clear, though, that all that energy they used to get back in the game took a toll on the girls, and they entered halftime trailing 29-27.
“Once they got comfortable and started playing basketball, they played better,” Dalbey said of his team. “Problem was, when you dig out of a hole like that it can be really tough emotionally. You worked that hard to get back into it and you’re only tied. That’s tough.”
Willmar once again jumped all over the Thunder to start the second half, but this time there just wasn’t enough left in the tank for them to battle back. Willmar would go on to win the game, breaking the hearts of the entire Zimmerman community, not just the team.
And even though this loss was not the outcome the girls were looking for, it cannot take away from the season they had, as a whole.
It was arguably the greatest season any Zimmerman girls basketball team as ever had as they went 23-3 in the regular season, won the program’s first conference championship, earned the No. 1 seed in the section tournament and made it to the section finals for the first time ever. Nothing, not even falling just short of the state tournament, can take those accomplishments away from this team.
“That’s what I tried to tell the kids,” Dalbey began. “No matter what, you will hold on to this. You will remember it. Once the pain of losing settles down, you’ll remember the awesome season we had. The accomplishments you had and the strides we made. You cannot take that away form the kids and that’s something they’ll be forever proud of.”
The Thunder will lose two seniors after this game, Danielle Williams and Demie Bond, which means they will be bringing back a majority of their roster. And Dalbey’s hope is that this loss lights a fire in his players’ hearts and that they come back hungrier than ever and get over this final hurdle.
“Hopefully the kids get some time to rest this spring and hopefully this lights a fire in some of these kids to work hard,” he said. “To get better, so we can get back to this game next year. That’s got to be our goal.”