Unafraid to take mediocrity head on

By: Jim Linsdau, Sports Editor
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Sports are rarely, if ever, played to achieve mediocrity. However, there are limits for those willing to accept those limits. None of the teams I cover fall into that category.

Cases in point are Lincoln’s and Whitney’s football programs. In two games, they have played teams that have won their leagues, section titles and played in a state bowl. In contrast, in the past 10 years Whitney and Lincoln have one section title between them – and that was in Division IV.

Both schools have grown and no longer play in Division IV. In fact, Lincoln is now D-III and Whitney D-II and their student populations are not shrinking.

“When we go into playoffs, Rocklin is Division II just like we are,” said Whitney football head coach Mike Gimenez, who has beaten Rocklin only once in four tries. “If we play bad teams it is not going to get us ready for top-notch competition.”

So the Wildcats scheduled two state powers this season, Oak Ridge and Enterprise in Redding. It’s true they lost both, but had they played Brookside Christian and Foresthill in their first two games would that have prepared Whitney for Rocklin? – a team they play Friday in the Quarry Bowl.

There is the issue of players getting hurt, but that isn’t necessarily a function of playing a team that might be considered a superior team. There are a number of teams in the area that play teams better then they every Friday night, but they still show up to play.

“I wouldn’t trade this preseason for the world,” said Lincoln football head coach Chris Bean, whose team has lost to both Ponderosa and El Dorado, and will now play Division I Nevada Union. “[T]hat’s the only way you can get a true measuring stick of where you are and where you want to be by the time you get to league.”

Bean said he and his coaching staff used to freak out when key players went down to injury and were lost for a couple of games. But he said there is a silver lining because another player always steps up to fill that spot; and in some cases, they never give it up.

Rocklin linebacker Dustin Howenstine said he started the first six games last season, before another player took over his position. Howenstine said that player went on to make all-league.

“We’re all the same age; we’re all the same kids; we’re all playing for the same reason,” said Howenstine. “It’s just competition and we just take it one team at a time.”

Del Oro is a prime example of a team that refuses to rest on its laurels. After finishing runners-up at state last season, they put together a preseason that now has them 0-2. And they still have to play a team good enough to have a movie made about them – maybe the next one made will be about the Golden Eagles.

This discussion has been about football, but it applies to all sports – Rocklin baseball, Whitney cross-country, and track and field, Lincoln basketball and the list goes on.

Like Howenstine said, “It’s just competition … .”

Indeed, and without it we would all be mired in mediocrity.