EVERETT — When the Cascade girls basketball team was in the midst of its 41-game Wesco 4A losing streak, there were times when the Bruins players couldn’t help but assume they’d find a way to turn a win into a loss.
They tried to remain positive, of course, but it’s only natural to think that a particular event is going to find a way to happen if it’s happened so many times before.
“There were points in games when it’d be close, and we’d think, ‘Oh man, we can totally win this game,’” Cascade senior Megan Thomas said, “and things started going downhill and we’d lose the momentum.”
Sometimes the streak would help to mentally defeat the team before it even stepped onto the court.
“Last year we’d go into games against better teams like Snohomish knowing that we were going to lose,” Bruins senior Anneka Hilde said. “We would try our best, but we knew it was coming.”
Entering this season, Cascade’s conference losing streak sat at 32; the Bruins hadn’t won a Wesco 4A contest since Jan. 24, 2014, a victory over Mariner. But the Bruins’ players, and especially their four seniors — Thomas, Hilde, Jessica Welch and Lexi Strike — were convinced that they weren’t going to slog through another winless conference campaign in 2016-17.
Cascade dropped its first nine Wesco 4A games to run the streak to 41, but finally broke through with a 33-27 win over Mount Vernon on Jan. 25.
When the final buzzer sounded, the Bruins’ seniors found each other and embraced in a long-awaited group hug. For the first time in their varsity careers, they had won a conference game.
“It was exciting,” Welch said. “We didn’t really show it. It was more like we didn’t know how to take it. We were, like, ‘Whoa. Did that just happen?’ We knew we really needed that win.”
Cascade’s preseason optimism partially stemmed from the philosophies of John Barhanovich, the Bruins’ new coach. He figured that a team that hadn’t won a conference game in more than two years and had won only one game the year before needed a boost of positive energy.
“Yeah, there have been days when I’ve wondered ‘Why?’ But coach Barhanovich, he’s always been positive, and the practices have always been fun,” Strike said. “The coaches haven’t been yelling at us for not winning. They’ve always been focused on the next game and getting better.”
“We tried to be as positive as we could, starting in the summer training and continuing on,” said Barhanovich, who coached Cascade for eight years in the 1990s and Archbishop Murphy from 2004-11. “(The losing mindset) is what you have to try to break, and that’s not easy.”
On Dec. 16, the Bruins lost to Mount Vernon by three points in overtime. On Jan. 4, they lost to Jackson by two points. On Jan. 11, they fell to Mariner by eight points after taking a lead into the fourth quarter. They tried to stay optimistic because they saw they were getting closer and closer to a breakthrough.
“That’s another part of turning the culture a little bit — being competitive. You may not win, but you’re competitive. You have a chance late in the game. And we had done that,” Barhanovich said. “To their credit, they kept coming out and kept trying to get better and trying to do the little things that eventually found us a win.”
During the streak, Cascade’s seniors found ways to focus on positives, even if they weren’t finding positive results in terms of wins.
“This team is really fun to be on,” Thomas said. “We all really love each other, and we like to uplift each other in the things that we do. If somebody does something really good, or if they’re getting better at something, we like to say ‘Congrats,’ or ‘You’re doing a really good job.’ I think if you do really good in a game, if you work as a team, it’s worth it, even if you didn’t end up winning.”
“We’ve learned dedication, because it was hard to come in during the offseason when it didn’t always seem like it was paying off,” Strike said. “But even when we were coming in during the offseason and we didn’t have tangible results, we could still feel ourselves getting better, and it’s fun to feel like you’re getting better at something.”
During the past couple of seasons, there were times when the Bruins played in front of sparse home crowds; players would ask fellow students to attend their games, only to hear a response along the lines of, “You always lose, so why should I show up?” That kind of rejection was difficult for the players to deal with.
“Last year didn’t really feel positive because we were losing every game. We didn’t have support — no fans. We just didn’t have a positive outlook on it,” Welch said. “This year we definitely have more motivation. We have more supporters than in past years. Our families actually want to watch us, and they’re proud of us. The people are more supportive. It’s a different environment.”
Cascade will play Friday against Mariner, then finish its season Monday against Monroe. Even though Hilde, Thomas, Welch and Strike never had the chance to experience postseason play, they will walk away from the basketball court having learned a litany of valuable life lessons.
“They learned a lot about perseverance, dedication, determination, stick-to-it-iveness and personal self-satisfaction,” Barhanovich said. “They all really love playing basketball. It never got to a point where (the streak) broke their spirit of loving the game. They’ve just stuck with it. I think it will pay off in the long run for them, no matter what profession they choose. A couple of them I think would be good coaches.
“I’ll give them credit — those four have been through tough times and they kept playing. Hopefully this year’s been rewarding for them.”
“You’re not always going to win every game. You’re not always going to do great in everything,” Hilde said. “You just have to push through that and do the best that you can, and good things will come out of it — like the win that we had.”