When you play golf, consistently shooting low numbers is a positive thing. When you step on your bathroom scale, seeing low numbers will always make your day.
But when it applies to your basketball team, or any sport for that matter, low numbers are often not good. Low numbers usually equate to low numbers in the win column.
Longtime Mount St. Charles Academy girlsâ€™ basketball coach Nine Morey knows all about that. The Mounties, who have averaged 15 wins the last four seasons, including a state runner-up finish in 2007-08 and last year, are struggling this winter.
With a grand total of just 13 players on its roster, Mount sits in seventh place in the league with a 3-7 mark. The sub-.500 record at this point in the season is a rarity for Moreyâ€™s team. The Mounties experienced growing pains when it moved up to Division II from Div. III back in 2004-05 when they had a combined 12-38 record during their first three years. But since then, they have been one of the most dominant teams in the league. Last year, the Mounties came all so close to perfection by registering a division-leading 17-1 record before eventually falling to The Prout School in the state finals.
Success breeds numbers? Not in this case.
â€śI have never had this low in numbers before,â€ť Morey said. â€śI have had teams in the high 20s and usually average about 24-25 kids. We keep about 10 or 11 for jayvee.â€ť
This yearâ€™s Mount squad mainly consists of jayvee players. For games, the Mounties suit up just four true varsity players, while the rest are
back on the court after playing the jayvee game at the beginning of the night.
That makes for some creative juggling by Morey on a nightly basis.
â€śWe have to be very strategic because we have kids that can only play three halves of basketball because they swing,â€ť she said. â€śI only have (nine) for jayvee and I donâ€™t want to lose my jayvee program.â€ť
Mountâ€™s problem with numbers this year is not uncommon. Several other schools across the state are experiencing the same problem with their programs. In the Blackstone Valley area, the Woonsocket boys also have an unlucky 13 on their roster. The Burrillville girls have 16. The Lincoln boys have 12 and the girlsâ€™ program suits 15.
Even the Woonsocket girls, a dominant team the last five years with back-to-back state titles in Div. II and Div. I from 2008-10 on their resume, have not been blessed with a crowded bench. The Lady Novans have 20 players on this yearâ€™s team, but a majority of them are novice to the sport.
Why the low numbers? Morey and Woonsocket girlsâ€™ coach George Coderre feel one of the primary reasons is the fact that multiple-sport athletes are becoming less and less each year.
There are a wide range of athletes that are beginning to focus on just one sport, making it a nearly year-round commitment.
â€śI think there are more and more choices for kids these days and they are choosing to specialize,â€ť Morey said. â€śI have seen that trend the past five years. I have seen some kids that have been really good on the middle school team that never even tried out for the high school team because they specialize in one sport.â€ť
Coderre made the point that basketball in particular is hit hardest by this growing trend.
â€śBasketball is a difficult sport to master,â€ť he said. â€śIn most sports, there are more people on the field. In basketball, there are only five players out there and they have to have a grasp on offense and defense. It requires kids to go out on their own (in the off-season) and learn more skills.â€ť
While it is punching some kidâ€™s tickets to some quality Division I or Division II college programs with year-round commitment to a sport, the numbers that make it big are very few. Morey feels concentrating on a single sport can also have its negatives.
â€śI donâ€™t think you should specialize in a sport that young,â€ť she said. â€śYou shouldnâ€™t limit to one sport. There is more of a chance of burn out and better chance of injury because you are always using the same muscles.â€ť
Not surprisingly, the dominant private schools in basketball such as Bishop Hendricken (32 players), St. Raphael Academy (26) and La Salle Academy (25) in boys and La Salle (24) and Bay View (26) in girls have consistently had full varsity and jayvee squads.
Coderre says success doesnâ€™t necessarily breed numbers to a program anymore. But in the case of these private schools, the better athletes from a particular town are gravitating to these successful programs to get more notice by college recruits.
â€śThe expectations are higher of kids going to the Bay Views or the La Salles,â€ť Coderre said. â€śA lot of these kids have been playing on AAU programs and have the background and expectation of success. Thatâ€™s not a knock to these schools. In fact, I envy them. Unfortunately, so many other programs donâ€™t come in with the same expectations of success.â€ť
Although sheâ€™s hoping the numbers improve in the years ahead, Morey has found a silver lining in the low numbers she has this winter.
â€śWe donâ€™t have anyone upset about playing time,â€ť she said. â€śThey all get along. They are positive about it.â€ť
Morey believes she may experience a similar squad in 2012-13.
â€śI think right now there are only two eighth-graders in the middle school program,â€ť she said. â€śHopefully, those two come back and we have some more kids that try out. If not, it could be the same next year.â€ť
Despite its slow start, the Mount coach is still thinking playoffs for her young squad, which is led by veteran senior Taylor Messier. If the Mounties can win at least a handful of their remaining eight games, thatâ€™s a good possibility.
Moreyâ€™s also keeping her fingers crossed about the future.
â€śI hope in a few years the success comes back,â€ť she said. â€śThey are starting to come on. I definitely see some improvementâ€¦In terms of dealing with the numbers; we are making do, getting by and staying positive to compensate for the small steps we are making.â€ť
Coderre hopes the future is bright for his program, too. But he is a little skeptical about the upcoming years.
â€śWe have had more kids in the past that are more skilled,â€ť he said. â€śBut we have really been walking a dangerous line the last couple of years. Our bench is a jayvee team and jayvee is right after middle school where we have had no success whatsoever. We have kids that have gone out for our program that have zero experience. I love having them in our program but itâ€™s difficult to expect success in a program with kids that have had no success in the game. Itâ€™s a sport that requires so many skills.â€ť