The game clock dwindles down to the final seconds as the players shake each other’s hands.
Adding the polite comment of, “good game” or, “way to shoot the rock.”
The buzzer sounds.
The Winona Cotter boys’ basketball team has been eliminated, ending their season with a record of 2 wins, 24 losses.
For many, this would seem like a season to forget.
For the Ramblers, they have a lot to be proud of.
This was the first year for Cotter head coach TJ Lowe.
Lowe, a former college athlete and skills trainer, has worked with players on reaching goals, but has never had a whole team to lead.
“I did a lot of individual work with people,” Lowe said. “Like somebody that’s Division-II and they want to get to a better school, or even Division-I.”
Lowe started with the boy’s freshmen team at Winona Cotter during the 2015/16 season before working his way up to Junior Varsity.
There he coached for two years before a job promotion pulled him away.
After a year away from the teams, Lowe found a way to clear his schedule, and according to him, was asked back by “popular demand.”
Coming into the 2019-20 season, the Cotter boys’ basketball program had not had a winning record in their division for the past ten years (MNBasketballHub.) Coach Lowe wasn’t sure what he was getting when he held the first practice last fall.
“They were freshmen when I was still there, so one or maybe two kids would come up for a half in a tournament and I’d let them play a couple minutes,” Lowe said. “Other than that, I knew nothing about my team.”
The team rostered only three seniors, two of those injured, and a bunch of juniors and sophomores who hadn’t seen solid minutes at the varsity level.
Worse, the team had become used to losing. The narrative surrounding the Cotter boy’s basketball program had dropped significantly since their championship runs of the 1980s.
Coach Lowe said he believes he can reinstate the powerhouse narrative of Cotter basketball. He knows it’s going to be one step at a time.
“I think a lot of kids don’t get to their full potential because the mental side of it is holding them back,” Lowe said. “All year I said, ‘we have to come together as a team first, we can’t bicker.’”
Being able to play as a team helped the Ramblers secure two victories on the season, but there were many more successes being made throughout the year.
After the first couple losses, Coach Lowe rallied his team , and promised improvement.
“First they came in hanging their heads, and I said, ‘Hey, this is just the beginning. We are going to put time in the gym, and we are going to get better,’” Lowe said. “We have to believe that we are going to do that, we have to take these steps. Next thing you know, people are starting to shoot better, we had multiple people in the top 100 of Minnesota basketball, in all divisions.”
Seeing the ball go through the hoop is definitely a confidence booster, but Lowe said he knew that was the beginning.
“The next hump was knowing what it was like to maintain a lead or be able to stay in the game,” Lowe said. “We did get the one win against Coulee-Christian, but that is the one we were expecting to win.”
Thinking of the progress as a step by step solution sounds like a simple task. It is not.
“You have to go through the trials and tribulations. Otherwise you have no idea what you are doing out there,” Lowe said. “They could have easily just said, ‘this blows, I don’t want to be here.’ But man, they just kept with it and I was very proud of them.”
Having a good relationship with the players is a must for Lowe. With team and individual meetings, he has a chance to talk with each player and know what’s going on.
Ryan Todd has been around the Cotter boys’ basketball program for a few years as the junior varsity coach and has noticed the changing narrative of the varsity program.
“It’s not so much winning and losing games,” Todd said. “Seeing their skills improve, and getting comfortable on the floor I think helps them buy in. It’s night and day how much better we are from the first practice.”
Watching the final game of the season, the progress and effort can be seen by anyone in the crowd.
Down 43-4 to start the game, frustration was running high as, “oh my god, we’re bad,” was muttered on the bench during a stretch of turnovers by one of the players.
Coach Lowe called a timeout and brought his team back together.
The ensuing five minutes was like watching a completely different team.
Plays were being executed, shots were falling, defensive stops were being made, and next thing they knew, they went on a 14-4 run against the number one team in the section.
Coach Lowe called another time out and brought his players in.
From the huddle you could hear Coach Lowe yelling, “this is how it is, this is how it could be!”
The game did end 95-42, but the second half was much closer than the first.
“It’s amazing how far we came, especially in a section like ours. It was so easy to give up, but we kept stepping forward,” Lowe said. “They made such a big jump this year, it was amazing, I’m very happy.”