Failures of past can be great motivator

May 22, 2011 

It is one of the oldest cliches in sports: Act like you've been there before.

The idea is to behave on the biggest stage as if it is an everyday occurrence, to treat every game as if it's just like any other, no matter the stakes.

But there is something to be said, too, for acting like you haven't been there before.

There is an intrinsic motivation found in reaching new heights that can't be faked -- a hunger borne of past shortcomings that produces an insatiable desire to keep going.

Two area teams -- Thomas Heyward Academy's softball team and Hilton Head High's girls soccer team -- capitalized on the dynamic of this anti-cliche while winning state titles this week.

The Rebels didn't pretend their experience in the SCISAA Class 3-A championship series last season did anything to alleviate their nerves this week, when they faced Colleton Prep in a best-of-three series for the SCISAA Class 2-A title.

Yes, they had been there before, but if anything, that past experience brought more pressure -- not less. They knew what it felt like to fall short -- many of the same players also finished as runners-up for the SCISAA Class 2-A basketball title in March -- and they didn't want to experience it again.

"It was just getting old," star pitcher Ashlie Layman said.

The Rebels left little doubt, pounding Colleton Prep 12-1 and 10-0 to sweep the series.

Neither were the Seahawks content to settle for the status quo of the past two seasons, when they compiled impressive regular-season records but fell short of the Class 3-A state championship game.

Save for a handful of players who were on the 2008 state championship team, the Seahawks wanted nothing less than a journey to uncharted territory, and their motivation was apparent in rolling through the Lower State playoffs without much of a challenge.

"I think we've gotten the desire to want it more since last year," sophomore Kelsey Fitzhugh said before the title game.

That's not acting like you've been there before -- it's being dissatisfied with the fact you haven't.

A certain complacency sometimes can accompany success, an especially valid concern when dealing with the fragile egos and psyches of high school kids and something Rebels coach Bob Layman and Seahawks coach Ernie Suozzi will have to protect against next season.

Both teams have plenty of reason to believe they'll be back on the big stage a year from now. Only one of the Rebels' starters was a senior, and the Seahawks had only three seniors on the roster.

The rest will be back with a chance to act like they've been there before and the challenge of going there again.

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