Men’s Basketball: winning for their seniors

On Saturday, Feb. 9 the men’s basketball team played against our conference rival Cornell College, but something was different. There was a certain suspense that the crowd could feel. The team showed more grit in their pregame, displaying their desire to win. It was senior night. Everyone wanted to do their best. They wanted to give their seniors a satisfying senior night, especially with only two games left in the regular season and the potential to make it to the playoffs. For seniors Owen Mitchell and George Mavrakis, the pressure was on to perform, as they possibly only had two games left in their collegiate basketball careers. The Vikings did not let their seniors down that night, and ended up beating Cornell 86 to 75.

It was a close match till the end, with Lawrence only ahead by four points at half time, but the Vikings were able to maintain composure, work together and pull out a win. I asked the men’s basketball head coach, Zach Filzen, to give me a short blurb about each senior and what they have contributed to the team over this past season and what will be missed next year without then. Coach Filzen decided to talk about Mitchell first: “Owen is one of the best teammates I have been around. He is extremely unselfish and comes to work every day with a ton of energy and enthusiasm. He has been a huge part of our team when it comes to leadership and setting the tone for what we are trying to build. Owen is a great young man who has had a big impact on our team.”

Coach Filzen then talked about the other senior, Mavrakis: “George has had a really solid year for us, especially on the offensive end.  He is also a great young man who has done an awesome job buying into what we have asked him to do. He was playing his best basketball performance by the end of the year which is a really fulfilling thing to see from a senior, finishing his career on a high note.”

I then asked Filzen to reflect upon the senior night game. He responded, “I was pleased with how we competed today. I thought our guys played really hard and executed well on both ends of the court. We got into a nice rhythm offensively, which was good to see. The ball had good movement and we made plays for each other, which was a big key to our success. Defensively we were pretty active and did a better job locating shooters as the game went on. We started out a little slow on the defensive end, but were able to pick it up as the game went on.”

In response to being asked what about the program makes Coach Filzen proud, he said, “I was proud of how the guys competed. We have been talking a lot about what it looks like to compete. We played hard and executed, which are two things we have been preaching a lot.”

Coach Filzen said, “It was definitely not easy. I wasn’t thrilled with our start and finish to the first half. We came out a little slow, especially on the defensive end. At the end of the first half we had a chance to open up the lead a little bit and we let them get back into it. However, I thought we responded and played a lot better in the second half.”

Seeing how this is the end of Mitchell and Mavrakis’s basketball career, I wanted them to have the chance to reflect upon their career and be able to share it with others.

Mitchell responded, “My favorite basketball memory was beating Grinnell at home junior year and getting to spend time with all of my best friends every day. I will miss all of the little things: the bus rides, the meals, the nights in hotels on road trips, the inside jokes. My advice to freshmen would be to enjoy the time you get to spend with all of the people here—it goes by fast.

“All that was running through my head that night was how thankful I was to have my parents and so many people there that I cared about. It’s always so great to look into the stands and see so many of our team’s parents. It’s incredible how well all of our parents travel and how supportive they are of all of us. And we won the game, so you can’t ask for much more than that.”

Mavrakis shared similar sentiments, but had his own unique perspective. “One of my favorite memories was when Owen and I studied abroad together in London last year. We would visit different countries on the weekends, and one time we found ourselves playing pickup basketball in Poland against the locals at a park. We were just exploring in regular clothes, but wearing jeans and Vans didn’t stop us from asking to hop in a game. Before we knew it, one game turned into ten games and everyone at the park stopped what they were doing to watch other kids try and challenge us. It was like the Uncle Drew commercial. Nobody could stop us, even in our jeans.

“What I will miss the most is the mix of physical and mental composure you need in high level sports. I’ve made a lot of memories with all the guys over the years. It’s interesting, though: sometimes it’s the most painful moments my teammates and I experienced together that makes for the funniest stories years later. When you deal with those things collectively it can create very powerful friendships. My advice for the incoming freshmen: I know it’s tempting to eat waffles downstairs in the commons every day, but you should really mix some veggies in there. Some lettuce will do wonders for your jump shot. Senior night was a bag of fun. We got the win, and that’s all I wanted,” said Mavrakis.

How do you end something so sentimental and precious? How do you say goodbye to something you’ve been doing for years, especially now that it has become a part of you? We can’t stop the inevitable, and we cannot see our future, so play every game with as much heart as you can.