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SV girls hoops: Practicing life lessons through basketball

Tessa Cirpriano hustles for a loose ball during the Cardinals' first week of practice. Katie Davidson / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 2
Senior Brianna O'Brien: “[Fans] definitely will always see us working hard. We are a very hardworking team, and they’ll see that every time we set foot on the court, we’re working hard, we’re go-getters, we’re hustling after every single ball.” Katie Davidson / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 2

High school sports teach young athletes more than how to perfect a jump shot, throw a fast ball or develop a foolproof takedown move. By playing prep sports, teenagers learn life lessons that they're able to carry with them far beyond their athletic careers.

Spring Valley girls basketball head coach Sean Hoolihan knows this and embraces his ability to leave his players with more than just improved basketball skills.

"Coaching high school sports is about the process of learning life lessons," Hoolihan said, "as basketball being a vehicle to motivate and challenge the young girls to learn that showing up, working hard and repeating the process is the only way to go through life."

Although Hoolihan has only been coaching his Cardinals team for just over a year, his coaching methods have already made an impression on his players.

Hoolihan's two seniors, Tessa Cipriano and Brianna O'Brien, said they adjusted well to their new coach over the course of their junior season and have bought into his style of coaching.

"I feel like with a new coach it went a lot better than what people anticipated," O'Brien said. "It was a step up for us. [Hoolihan] really controlled our attitudes, he got some good leaders out there, and overall it went better than what everybody thought."

Last year's 8-16 Cardinals graduated seven seniors at the end of the season, and Cipriano and O'Brien know that they'll have to stress Hoolihan's team-first mentality to get their new, inexperienced varsity teammates ready to compete at a higher level of basketball.

"A lot of it is [being] competitive in practice, pushing each other, and I think a lot of it too is just talking with the younger girls whenever you can like telling them 'good job' and offering rides home from practice just to make them feel more welcome," Cipriano said.

O'Brien echoed Cipriano's remarks and said that building relationships is their top priority for getting newcomers adjusted to the varsity level of play,

"The first big thing is forming relationships with [new varsity players], and the second one is treating practice like you're in a game, which Coach is very adamant on," O'Brien said.

Winter sports teams have to fight off fatigue that comes from a lengthy season, and the Cardinals know they will have to rely on team support to keep intensity levels up throughout the long season.

"It has a lot to do with supporting each other," Cipriano said about keeping practices game-like. "I think that once you really get like halfway through the season when you kind of know this is what the teams are like you rely a lot on your teammates to keep pushing you."

"And you build on that, like, this is your team now and you've got to build them up," O'Brien added.

Like all athletes, the two seniors want to have a winning season, but are more concerned with paving the way for the future of the Spring Valley girls basketball program by teaching underclassmen the name of the Cardinal game — outhustling all opponents.

"It's not about the wins and the losses, but it's about what you do with your team, how you build your team up and how you set that example for the next years to come," O'Brien said. "We want [future players] to be like, 'Yeah, Tessa and Bri worked hard and we want to be just like them next year and work harder than them,' and that should be our goal.

How do they leave such a legacy?

"It's a lot of just pushing each other and making every practice game-like ... working our butts off, basically," Cipriano said. "We're not going to get anywhere by just not putting the time in and just acting like everything is not serious. Everything needs to be serious, and we just need to be competitive."

If they're able to do this, Cipriano and O'Brien believe they'll be able to lead their team to the top half of the Dunn-St. Croix Conference. But no matter what the outcome of the season, Cipriano and O'Brien guarantee to Cardinals fans they will never give less than their max effort.

"[Fans] definitely will always see us working hard," O'Brien said. "We are a very hardworking team, and they'll see that every time we set foot on the court, we're working hard, we're go-getters, we're hustling after every single ball."

Coach Hoolihan is on the same page as his players.

"Fans and opponents will see a team that will fight, scratch, dive and hustle the entire game," Hoolihan added.

The Spring Valley head coach knows that his players' hard work and resilience will bring them long-term success, which outweighs an above .500 record in the long run.

The Cardinals will continue to put their coach's lessons of teamwork and infallible work ethic to the test on Tuesday, Nov. 28 against the Ellsworth Panthers. Spectators can expect to see a battle between two teams that refuse to get outworked by their opponents.