Teams that have great regular seasons go into the playoffs hoping for a long postseason run. When it doesn't happen, the ending is sudden.
That's the position the Osakis boys basketball team found itself in this past week. After falling in the Section 8AA quarterfinals in a 59-55 game to Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton (19-9) on March 11, the Silverstreaks were left looking back on a 26-2 season.
"We wanted to get back to that Final Four and maybe get another crack at Perham, and it didn't happen," Osakis head coach Matt Hoelscher said a few days after the loss. "So there's letdown, but when you do look back, we did have an incredible season. A lot of remarkable things and achievements along the way. We saw some big-time plays from some big-time players. You got to understand that the season is a journey, and we had more ups at the beginning and throughout the year. I'm proud of what the guys accomplished."
Coaches will often dwell on things that could have gone differently in the immediate aftermath of a tough loss. That's human nature, but Hoelscher credited a good DGF team for a lot of what went wrong for Osakis that night.
"There are some things I wish we would have done differently, but you can't take anything back now," he said. "It kind of came down to us playing a really good team. They were extremely physical, athletic, put a lot of pressure on us. We just missed some opportunities."
The Silverstreaks finished with the best win-loss record of any basketball team in the Douglas County Area. The question now becomes, how can Osakis take that next step to beat the section's best teams come tournament time?
Hoelscher has seen growth for Osakis in each of his seven seasons-from single-digit win totals at the beginning to 21 wins in 2016-17 and 22 last winter. This winter, the Silverstreaks accomplished pretty much everything they wanted to do during the regular season.
"I think the next step is getting over that roadblock, which was Perham last year, and DGF this year," Hoelscher said. "A lot of people say, 'Well, the reason they're undefeated is because they play a weak schedule.' There is some truth to that, but for the first time since I've been here we beat Eden Valley, we beat Sauk Centre, we beat Minnewaska. Those are stepping stones for us. Now we got to find a way, how do we beat Melrose? How do we beat Perham? If we move sections, how do we beat an Albany?"
The Silverstreaks dominated the Prairie Conference this season with a 12-0 record. Royalton and Browerville-Eagle Valley were each 9-3 to tie for second. Osakis went 4-0 against those two teams, beating them by an average of more than 25 points per game in those four contests.
The Silverstreaks only faced four teams in the Section 8AA field through the regular season, a product of moving out of Section 6 after 2017. Osakis waited to see how long that move would last, and Hoelscher believes there is a good chance the Silverstreaks will move back into Section 6 for next season as enrollment numbers shift the landscape for programs on the edge of the Class A, AA and AAA fields.
Hoelscher would welcome a schedule that includes facing many of the toughest teams in their section as a way to get the Silverstreaks ready for the postseason.
"Any time we can play those groups, it's better for our program just to face them on a consistent basis," Hoelscher said. "That would be ideal. If we're going to be in those sections and have to beat those tough teams, we'd like to play them or teams like them throughout the year."
That would mean facing more opponents like Melrose (25-4), which Osakis played on Feb. 25. That took place in front of a packed gym where fans saw the Dutchmen win a 60-55 game.
Going from competing against those type of teams to beating them takes commitment.
"What we need to do is be more consistent from multiple players," Hoelscher said. "We had times where guys would do well over two or three games, but we want to see that consistency 26 games out of the year. We want to be a team where when we put five guys on the floor, they're a threat to do something offensively, but also defensively where we don't have any weaknesses. That just takes repetition. That takes guys not just coming to our summer stuff, but going out and doing things on their own as well."
The Osakis coaching staff talked about that with this year's junior class. Those are the guys who are now asked to set the example for players below them in all of their sports. After one of the best winters in recent memory, Hoelscher is ready to see if a 26-win season serves as motivation for the players who will return for what should be another big season next winter.
"There are some players who are motivated by winning," Hoelscher said. "They're motivated now after losing to DGF, but does that motivation stay with them three, four months from now? Time will tell. I think when we have successful fall activities, that success filters into the winter. When you have successful winter activities, that hopefully translates into the spring. That's a huge key, as well."