COACH RICK BURLEY praised the support from the fans throughout the season. Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)
March 13, 2017ALTON — A few days after his team's heartbreaking quadruple-overtime semifinal loss to Monadnock, Prospect Mountain girls' basketball coach Rick Burley had recovered enough that he was thinking of going to a basketball game that night.
But more importantly, he wanted to take some time to reflect on the season and thank all the people who helped to make the team's season a successful one.
Burley noted that over the years, while the boys' basketball team had a couple of trips to the finals that resulted in large groups of fans supporting the team, the girls' program had struggled to get the recognition, mainly because they weren't making deep runs in the playoffs.
Prior to last year's first-round win over Stevens, the last time the Timber Wolves had won a postseason game was in the 2011-2012 season when the Timber Wolves won a play-in game over Monadnock.
"I told them, start winning and it will come," Burley said of the atmosphere his players were hoping for.
"The fans are important to the program's success," Burley said. "They want to play in that type of atmosphere."
That atmosphere was never more prevalent than it was in the Division III semifinals, when Prospect fans packed their side of the Southern New Hampshire University. As the teams got prepared for the game, the Timber Wolf fans easily outnumbered the Monadnock supporters by a two-to-one margin and kept up the cheering and noise throughout the game, erupting with each big shot that hit the net.
Burley said that atmosphere was impressive and he hopes that the kids coming up in the local hoop programs will see that and want to take part in that.
"Those younger girls coming up, they see that and they want to play in that," Burley pointed out.
While the semifinal game was on a large stage, even the crowds at the team's regular season games and first two playoff games in their home gym grew consistently.
"You saw the same people, many with kids who are out of school, at the games," Burley said. "They community is really a huge part of it all.
"Our fans, we loved them," Burley said. "They were excited."
The Timber Wolf coach noted that the support his team found all year long wasn't lost on him or on the girls.
"We appreciate all the support throughout the year," Burley said. "As we were going through the season, the stands started getting fuller and fuller."
Burley pointed to the Newfound and Sanborn games as key moments in the season when the crowds backed his team in a big way. Both games featured matchups of undefeated teams.
"There's a lot of family, but not just students or parents, it was individuals from the community," the Timber Wolf coach said.
Additionally, Burley wanted to state the pride he felt for his team, the girls that fought on the court for the past few years to get better and to reach a point where they were playing in the Division III semifinals.
"It's not easy being a student-athlete," Burley said, noting he could speak not only as a coach, but also as a parent whose daughters have played sports. "Late practices, college-level courses, late nights, early mornings.
"There's a lot of stuff behind the scenes that goes unnoticed," Burley continued. "And I had not issues with any kid with grades this year."
Burley also said that there were a lot of things to take from the season, despite what was a tough ending.
"I told them, don't focus on what happened here tonight," Burley said of his speech in the locker room after the game. "Think about the whole season and what we accomplished.
"There's a lot to be proud of," the Timber Wolf coach continued. "That's the best any girls' team has done at Prospect Mountain.
"You're all a big part of the program getting better," Burley said to his team.
"I felt for the girls," the Prospect coach continued. "Obviously I want to win and do well as a coach."
However, he also pointed out that in the beginning of the season, some of the girls' goals were just to get to the Final Four if for no other reason than to get a Final Four sweatshirt. That changed as the team started its magical run throughout the regular season.
"Our goal was to bring home a banner," Burley said. "They've been trying to instill that in them."
Despite losing a number of seniors to graduation, Burley expects that his team will be a force in Division III next year too.
"We lost a lot but we have some returning players and some good players coming up," Burley said. "Hopefully those younger kids see that and it's what they want to be a part of.
"Hopefully this helps all things, the summer program, putting work in during the offseason," Burley said.
"This is the best group of girls I've ever coached in basketball," Burley said. "I thank the girls for really working extra hard. I knew we had the talent, they just had to put in the work and we did that.
"They really stepped up our program," the Timber Wolf coach continued. "Hopefully a lot of things started this year will continue with the younger girls."
Joshua Spaulding can be reached at 569-3126 or firstname.lastname@example.org.