CHARLOTTE, N.C. – “It’s not about me.”
Those are the words on the door to Providence Day girls basketball coach Josh Springer’s office. And that’s the motto Providence Day has used to become one of the most wildly successful girls basketball programs in the country.
Fresh off a sixth-straight NCISAA state championship, Providence Day girls head coach Josh Springer is proud of his team’s accomplishment. But he’s also quick to point out sky-high expectations don’t guarantee success.
“It was the goal for our team this year. I would never shy away from that expectation. With that being said, it’s not as if a state championship just appears because it says Providence Day on your chest. And every year is a new journey with your team.”
This season was especially tough for the Lady Chargers, as Springer’s team had to replace three starters, including McDonald’s All-American Jatarie White. With four new players joining the program in 2014, Providence Day wouldn’t have much room for error early in the season. A grueling schedule didn’t help matters, either.
“As of January 1, we had played the second-most difficult schedule according to MaxPreps – public or private in the state of North Carolina. We played in the Charlotte Hoops Challenge against some great competition, as well as the Boo Williams Christmas tournament in Hampton, Virginia, one of the most prestigious tournaments in the country.”
Providence Day’s competition at the Boo Williams event was a nationally ranked gauntlet, with the Lady Chargers winning two out of three against some of the best competition on the East Coast.
“We played three games in three nights, similar to the state tournament format. We won in overtime against Bethel, defeated Maury, but lost to Princess Anne who is ranked in the Top 25 nationally.”
Springer feels his team’s success in that tournament was a springboard for the season. He knew his kids would either rise to the challenge or be embarrassed. The stout competition gave his team the confidence to shoot for another championship. And it shows, with Providence Day winning every game down the stretch following the loss against Princess Anne.
But to win a state championship, Providence Day would have to get through familiar foe Rabun Gap, who defeated the Chargers 50-42 in December. Springer’s team had met in the state tournament four consecutive seasons, each matchup seemingly closer than the previous one.
“We had beaten them last year in the semis on a tip-in at the buzzer, and we had beaten them in the championship the year before. They have an unbelievably talented team this year. We didn’t talk about it a lot, yet everybody seemed to have the feeling that there was a good chance we could see that Rabun Gap team again. And that’s what ended up happening. That loss might have been one of the best things to happen to us this year in terms of a focus and hunger,” said Springer.
Providence Day’s staff and team understand coming to the court on game day with a fire burning inside is a given. But it’s during the sometimes mundane routine where the Chargers lay the foundation for success.
“We talk a lot when we’re working out or we’re in practice, that we practice championship habits. It’s just a simple phrase like that to resonate with our coaches and players. We always tell our team that our game is going to be won or lost long before it’s ever played, based solely on the habits we have built in practice.”
When asked who provided his team with a spark of leadership, Springer has no hesitation.
“On this year’s team, we have one senior. Dani Brown has been a phenomenal leader for us. She’s not the leading scorer on our team, but her passion and work ethic are unmatched. I really think the team responded to her, and her intangibles were a key for our kids.”
Despite winning seven championships in eight seasons, Coach Springer uses something UConn women’s coach Geno Auriemma said to keep himself and his players driven.
“It’s excited to talk about where the program’s at, but I really like one of the quotes I heard Geno say. He said, ‘We’re not defending anything. That was last year. No one can ever take it away from us no matter what happens the next 20 years, but we’re attacking this year’s national championship.’ We don’t say we’ve won this many or that many, it’s truly a day-to-day operation about what we’re good at now, and this is what we need to work on to accomplish our goals. We try to take a simplistic approach with big-time goals and expectations.”
When the largest winter storm of the season blitzed North Carolina, the NCISAA tournament was pushed back, giving every team an extra week off the court. Springer and his staff made sure his team didn’t believe the time off was a disadvantage.
“We told them every team is dealt the exact same deck of cards. And we told them to focus only on what we can control. We don’t care if they tell us to play three games in one day, at midnight, or at six a.m., we have to focus on things we can control. And that’s our preparation, our mental makeup, our nutrition, our rest, and our effort. So that whenever they [the NCISAA] told us to play, we’d put our best foot forward.”
And that’s exactly what they did, cruising through the second and third rounds of the NCISAA tournament. When it came time to determine the champion, Providence Day would have to find a way to once again defeat Rabun Gap.
“They’re a fantastic program, and their coach, Dale Earnhardt, is one of the best coaches in our state association. They have a lot of talented players. They have two big girls who are going division one, and a sharpshooter who scored 29 on us last time. We knew it was going to be an unbelievable battle. They gave us all we wanted and then some. I think our girls were hungry to prove we’re playing better basketball now than we were three months ago. It was an electric atmosphere with two great teams playing.”
Springer’s team showed they had grown over the course of the season, defeating Rabun Gap 36-29 for the school’s 10th championship in 11 years. Providence Day’s coach is fast to deflect credit, going as far as to give his predecessor on the court a tip of the cap for the program’s success.
“Barb Nelson obviously did an incredible job at Providence Day for a long time. Over 20 years and seven state titles. I was really fortunate to get the job here, and really just tried to roll up my sleeves and get to work. We were able to hire a great group of coaches, some of whom are still with me eight years later. Coach David Russell has been here, and Nicole Okubanjo has been here a long time. We tried to hire a staff with previous head coaching experience, some college experience, and people who had been in the Providence Day community a long time. I’ve been fortunate to surround myself with fantastic people, which was really the first step.”
As for the future of Providence Day basketball, that appears to be in good shape as well. The Lil’ Dribblers program offers lessons for Providence Day students in grades K-3, and the school offers recreational teams for kids starting in third grade through sixth.
“Our goal has been to get the entire PD community excited about coming out and supporting Providence Day girls basketball.”
With another championship trophy to add to the collection, I think we can say mission accomplished. “It’s not about me” absolutely defines Josh Springer.