EVERETT — On Nov. 26, the Mariner High School boys basketball team opened its 2012-13 season with a non-conference home game against Woodinville. The score was tied through three quarters, but in the final period the Marauders eased in front for an eventual 49-43 victory.
And euphoria set in.
One year after going 0-20, the Marauders were back in the win column. And to see the ensuing celebration, you would have thought it was a state championship.
“With about 20 seconds to go, I had the biggest smile,” said Cody Chrisman, a senior center. “And then when the final buzzer sounded, the fans stormed the court. They were giving us high-fives and hugs. It was really emotional.
“I felt like I was on top of the world that day.”
As we all know, sports give us triumphs and setbacks, elations and sorrows. For most players, coaches and even fans, a spectrum of emotions is simply part of the usual sporting experience.
But for a team that goes winless, there are no highs to counter the lows. There is only disappointment and discouragement, and the entire season ultimately becomes a prolonged blur of despair.
“Last season was one of the most heartbreaking experiences I’ve ever had,” Chrisman recalled. “It really takes a toll on your morale.”
“Every loss cut deep,” senior guard Bayek Tutlam said. “And as the season went on, it started to raise questions. ‘Are we going to win this game?’ And then you’d see the scoreboard at the end and it was like, ‘Well, on to the next one.’ That’s how it went through the whole season until the last few games.
“And then it was like, ‘Can we at least win one?’ But it didn’t happen,” Tutlam said.
The victory over Woodinville in the season opener “felt great,” Tutlam said. “We hadn’t won a game since my sophomore year, so it was kind of like a new feeling.”
Since then the Marauders added non-league wins over Everett and Shorewood, lost to Meadowdale, then collected another win over Cascade to improve to 4-1 heading into Monday’s meeting with Kamiak.
As he recalls last season, Mariner coach Tom Jensen said his team rarely suffered blowout losses. Most nights the Marauders showed up ready to compete and they had a chance to win several games. Likewise, the team practiced diligently despite the mounting string of defeats.
“It wasn’t like we had to pick our spirits up every day,” said Jensen, a 1999 Mariner graduate who played under previous coach Dexter Griffen. “We didn’t have a loser’s mentality. With a team that doesn’t win any games you’d think there’d be guys jumping ship, but we didn’t have that.
“Don’t get me wrong, there was some hanging of heads on the court from time to time, but that’s why I have timeouts. I’d call a timeout and say, ‘We’re not doing this. We’re not going down that road.’”
Throughout the season, he said, “we stayed true to the game plan and we tried to get better from day to day.”
Other factors explain why the Marauders struggled a year ago, and why the outlook is rosier this season. Last year the team lost two key players to academic eligibility and a third transferred to another school. But those three players are all back this season, giving Mariner an important boost in talent.
The Marauders also have a terrific weapon in Tutlam, who was an all-conference pick a year ago. An athletic wing player, he can score from the perimeter or on drives to the basket, and he has the ability to create for others as well as himself.
He is, Jensen said, “an amazing basketball player … and we’re definitely going to lean on him at times because he’s so gifted. But we don’t want to make him responsible for us as a team because that’s just not (good) basketball in general. We want to get everybody the basketball where they can be successful in the offense.”
The team’s goals are unchanged from a year ago, he went on. “We’re looking to get better from game to game, and then hopefully put ourselves in a position where we’re competing for a playoff spot. The kids are playing hard, they’re doing their best, and they’re finding a little bit more success.”
But as much fun as it is to win again, the season is still young. Or as Jensen pointed out, “You don’t make the playoffs after (the first few) games.”
Also, the Marauders have some flaws to fix, particularly at the offensive end. But if that happens, he said, “I think we can be a really good basketball team.”