Teams are a lot like puzzles. It's all about finding the right fit.
Hoosac Valley boys basketball coach Bill Robinson has been playing with a myriad of pieces the last three years. Some fit with others, while some got lost under the couch or were from an old puzzle.
He thought he might have the right pieces this year and then lost one of those vital corner pieces in Austin Milesi.
"There's a missing piece to the puzzle all year long is that we didn't have that kid," Robinson said. "If we had that kid in our lineup, boy, we would be really good."
But he found replacements that fit nicely -- if not perfectly -- in sophomores Jameson Coughlan and Peter Barrow. The pieces were in place, the puzzle just needed time to settle like the foundation of a new house.
It quickly did, and for a trio of seniors, it was long overdue. Trevor Alibozek, Matt Braman and Sean Ryan-Kut have all been regular contributors, if not starters, since their sophomore seasons when they learned by doing.
"They've had to endure some low times in our program, not all on them," Robinson said. "We had to force these young kids to play early."
They were certainly inexperienced and took their lumps. The Hurricanes were a mere 3-17 that season. That was followed by a 7-13 campaign last year when the problem was still experience, but it showed itself in the team's inability to close out games.
That's why when the Hurricanes beat Greenfield in the season opener this year, the idea that something special could be in the works was already forming.
"It was good to come in and play a really full game for the first time in our two, three years as a team," Braman said. "So finally putting a full game together and end up finishing off in a really dramatic fashion" was big.
"I think that's when it kind of hit us that we could make it to something big."
That confidence helped carry them to a 14-6 regular season record and the No. 3 seed in the Western Massachusetts Division III tournament. It also brought about something that no one on the team, let alone that trio, had experienced -- playoff basketball.
Their first taste came at home, and that's the part Robinson was concerned about.
"We always tell the kids you want that first game home," Robinson said. "I think it's easier if you go on the road sometimes. You don't have that pressure. You're not expected to win. That was the big pressure game."
But the Hurricanes again found a way to beat the Green Wave and followed it up by knocking off who they thought should be the No. 1 seed in unbeaten Renaissance for a spot in today's final.
"We're feeling confident because we just beat who should have been the number one seed," Ryan-Kut said. "Our defense was good that game. We had a good offensive game, moved the ball well."
The Hurricanes have reached this stage in part because they have believed in themselves, but also because they have trusted the system. That trust, Robinson is convinced, has started with the seniors. That's because they have so much experience playing for him.
In Braman's sophomore season, "we didn't know how to play in the system Coach Robinson had us playing in," he said.
The Hurricanes have certainly figured it out this year and are showing it off lately. They've scored 132 points in their two playoff games
The aspect holding the puzzle together -- the glue, if you will -- has been a common mindset. It may have started during football season, but the athletes that came from other sports like soccer have joined in and made a seamless transition.
"There's just an understanding of what it takes to win," Robinson said. "Sacrifice for personal gain was high on the list we spoke about this year. They really accepted that, and they really don't care who gets the glory as long as the team is successful. When you get a bunch of kids for the one cause the team, then you're on to something."
To reach Josh Colligan:
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