Winning gets you rings, trophies and titles, as the Langara Falcons know. But as the players and coaches learned last weekend when they lost only their second league game in two years, a defeat now could give them the best chance to repeat as provincial and national college basketball champions.
That’s what the Falcons got Nov. 8 in Nanaimo. The top-ranked college team in Canada, Langara lost 77-70 to rival Vancouver Island University in their first league defeat this season -- only their second such loss in two years since an overall 29-1 record last season culminated in the 2013-14 Canadian College Athletic Association national championship.
“Since the loss, guys are definitely more focused, more locked in. I think before the loss, we thought we were going to cake-walk through the whole league,” said Elliot Mason, a fifth-year forward. “VIU, their whole goal of the season is to beat us. They haven’t beaten us in two years. We took two provincial championships away from them. We’re the number-one ranked team in the country. This time, they got the job done.
“We can now better prepare ourselves for that team. It made our focus tighter. That loss definitely put things into perspective,” said Mason.
“The loss was upsetting, but I think it was very much needed,” said starting point guard Martin Appiah. “A lot of the guys have grown content with winning the national championship last year and, in general, have been satisfied with that. We’ve been really laid back. The loss brought us back to what we actually need to do to accomplish what we want.”
What they want is to repeat, said Appiah, a five-foot-nine third-year Falcon and graduate of Churchill secondary.
“We’re talking more, we’re getting on each other for mistakes, we’re really pushing each other do to better,” he said.
The Falcons' national rank will likely slip following the loss but won't tumble far.
Assistant coach Jordan Mottl said practices and games should always be approached with the same intensity. “That way, when an emotional game or week happens — and they always do because every single season there are really high highs and really low lows, no matter what team you’re on — but if you approach practice and games the same every single time, it allows you to have consistent performance and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Appiah and rookie guard Montell Lindgren have the monumental task of stepping into the role vacated by Brody Grieg, one of the Falcons’ best-ever players, a CCAA all-star who was named Canada’s best college athlete, an honour drawn from athletes in all sports.
“It’s a big hole to fill,” said head coach Paul Eberhardt.
“The biggest change this year is would be the fact we don’t have Brody,” said Mason. “He was our floor manager. Pretty much all on-court responsibilities, they would all go to him.”
In addition to playing close to 40 minutes every game, Grieg was the force behind the Falcons’ run-and-gun offence and the whip-flick hand that threaded the needle on pin-sharp passes.
Since his graduation, the team’s leadership has shifted from one set of shoulders to many. Veterans like Mason, Garrett Ling-Lee, Jitinder Lohcham and Daniel Hobden as well as Appiah, who red-shirted for a year before backing up Grieg, are taking on the load.
“We’ll have to take on that leadership role,” said Mason. “We have the experience that it takes to win.”
In addition to the key roster change, Langara has also adjusted its shape and with that, its systems. The team has grown in size and now counts all players, with the exception of Appiah, over six foot. In January, grinder Glen Ruby will return and the Falcons will also add a new recruit from the Okanagan, a six-foot-eight post who will further reshape the offence.
“We’re a deep team right now and we’ll be even bigger after Christmas,” said Eberhardt, who conceded the loss will drop them out of the top national ranking. But it could teach them more about their game and how to beat their opponents.
“Sometimes winning can mask deficiencies,” he said. “If you approach a loss the right way, it can be beneficial. Obviously it was disappointing, but it’s still pretty early in the season and maybe we can get another streak going.”
Langara hosts Kwantlen Polytechnic University 8 p.m. Nov. 14.