GIBSON CITY - When the Falcon football team had their hearts broken in the 14-13 quarterfinal loss to Arcola a few weeks ago, senior tight end James Fairfield told a friend the loss felt like a breakup, because they couldn’t stop thinking about it.
His friend cited the quickest way to get over a break up is to find a new girl, and that the quick transition to winter sports should do the trick.
“Basketball is kind of our new girl,” Fairfield laughed.
With the breakup fresh, the Falcon basketball team speed dated their way through camp with only four days of practice before their season opener.
There wasn’t much time to go over the details, so the squad skipped to the important stuff and winged their way through the first two weeks of the season.
Luckily, things worked out pretty well for the group, who started the season off by winning their home tournament and starting off 5-0 before finally losing a game last week.
Not bad for a first date with an old flame.
Fairfield said the transition was a little rough the first day back, not because of a lack of basketball chemistry, but more of a mental and physical change.
“Our mind wasn’t into basketball yet,” he said. “All of us planned to be playing football again that week, and the disappointment kind of had us.”
The Falcon basketball coaches gave the football players until Wednesday to rest and recover from the Saturday loss, and Fairfield said the four days of practice showed great strides.
“I think the biggest adjustment was physical. The first day I thought I was in great shape. But being in shape for basketball and football are two totally different things,” Fairfield said, citing football as more of a strength endurance instead of constant cardio. “But I’m feeling a lot better than I was day one.”
Fellow senior Zach Johnson said the focus during the early stretch was getting their legs back under them, while also regaining their shooting form.
“The first day back, all of us were bricking (shots),” Johnson said. “It’s starting to feel more like summer basketball again.”
Senior Trevor Steidinger was the lone varsity basketball member in attendance during the first part of camp and said the return of his fellow varsity teammates improved things greatly.
“I wasn’t used to playing with any of the (underclassmen), but I gradually worked myself into it,” he said. “(When the upperclassmen returned) I knew exactly how some of them played together. We played with more (knowledge) of each other’s game.”
That chemistry from years of playing together is something the guys hope eases the transition and gets the team back to their old form quickly.
Of the 11 varsity basketball members, only sophomore starting point guard and co-MVP Mitch McNutt is an underclassman.
Most of the rest of the squad has spent many years building chemistry together, both in basketball and other sports.
GCMS returns its three leading scorers in 2015 co-MVPs Mitch McNutt, a sophomore, Tucker Cribbett, a junior, and third year starting senior James Fairfield.
One new member is Jesse Martin, a 6 foot, 1 inch senior who played in middle school and decided to rejoin his classmates for their last season.
Martin will be used primarily as a wing player whose shooting touch should be fairly utilized.
Zach Johnson, Trevor Steidinger and Nick Schoonover round out the senior class, and the juniors are Keegan and Austin Allen, Kyle Freehill and Sam Baillie,
Fairfield is the lone third-year starter and hopes to take charge of the leadership role that comes with that title.
“I remember looking up to Ross Royal (as a sophomore), and now I’m a senior and kids are looking up to me,” Fairfield said. “You don’t think it’s going to happen that fast. They warn you and tell you all the time that (the years) go by quicker than you expect.”
With how fast time has flown, Fairfield is taking a different approach and trying to enjoy the journey more.
“When you (start as a) sophomore, you sometimes play with too much weight on your shoulders because you’re trying to prove yourself to everybody,” Fairfield said. “Now that I’m a senior, it’s more of a leading role. I’m not trying to prove anything to anybody. I just want to have fun and have a successful season as a team.”
In the early stretch, Fairfield said the team is hoping to win through defense and aggressiveness as they get back into basketball shape.
“We’re probably not focusing on plays as much,” Fairfield said. “We’re mostly going to be relying on our aggressiveness and a lot of defense. So hopefully we can keep people’s (scoring) to a minimum. That’s kind of our main goal.”
Head Coach Ryan Tompkins said the key for this group to make a run this year is about doing the little things.
“Screening well, moving the ball sharply, gaining extra possessions with effort on the offensive glass and balance: these are areas that will help us sustain success,” Tompkins said. “We have many players that can do many things from scoring to rebounding, to defending, and that will make us a tougher matchup for opponents moving forward.”
With a roster that has been able to rotate almost every player available, the depth on this squad should become more and more evident as the season progresses.
“We have the ability to score multiple ways, but also our guys have the skill set and basketball IQ to make adjustments in-game that will help us,” Tompkins said. “Whether it be installing a new defensive scheme, or executing a new set, these guys pick up on things well.”
The Falcons have the next week off to finally get some serious practice time in, before returning home for a showdown with Blue Ridge next Friday.