Then the phone rang.
“It was the director of the district tournament wanting to know if he could have a copy of our roster,” Hill said. “I was like, ‘no, you have it wrong. We lost. Western won.’”
Call it a case of Halloween resurrection, but it turns out the result of the championship game didn’t matter. Completely unbeknown to Hill, the Trappers had earned a spot in the district tournament simply by virtue of advancing to the Region IX title game last Sunday. Seemingly dead and buried after their one-goal loss in that contest, the Trappers are back with no black magic needed.
The confusion stemmed from a one-two punch of changes to the NJCAA postseason process for this year and Region IX serving as the host region for this year’s district tournament. With Region IX acting as district host this year, the region was entitled to advance two teams to that tournament. Hill, however, was under the impression that meant two teams could advance to the national tournament.
“I got confused,” said Hill, who was correct on the point that two teams from the district tournament will be heading to the national championships. “You sit in these district meetings and they go over scenarios of if Team X does this, then this happens, and I just got confused between the region tournament and the district tournament.”
The district tournament director was more than willing to clear up the confusion for Hill, who called the Monday phone conversation a “pretty nice surprise.” Hill, in turn, had to break the news to his team.
“I’d already called guys about turning in their kits, and then I had to call them back and tell them we were practicing instead,” Hill said.
Now, Northwest College has one of sports’ rarest commodities — a second chance. The Trappers play Yavapai, the Region I champion and fifth-ranked team in the nation, in Rock Springs on Friday. A win there will advance the Trappers to the district title game Saturday against either Western Wyoming or North Idaho and leaves the season’s largest prize — a trip to the national tournament — within its reach.
“It’s the opportunity of a lifetime to play against a good, good team,” Hill said of the chance. “I hope the guys grab it with both hands. Hopefully we come out and give an honest effort.”
The biggest question will be how the team adjusts mentally. After a roller-coaster 72 hours, even the Trappers’ coach admits that could be anyone’s guess.
“It’s been weird,” Hill said of the ups and downs. “On Saturday, when we played Otero and won in the shoot-out, we played so hard and the guys were so happy to be moving forward. Then we just looked panicked to be in a regional final against Western Wyoming and didn’t really play with desire. I was mad. The guys were mad. I don’t think anyone said anything on the bus for about five hours, and now this.”
With a meeting against the No. 5 team in the nation on the horizon, there’s little time to focus on last weekend. If the team wants to succeed, Hill notes they have to focus on the upcoming game and capitalize on the opportunity, regardless of its surprising nature.
“We picked the biggest game of the year to play about our worst game of the season in the (regional) final,” said Hill. “If we can turn up Friday to play how this team is capable of playing, we’ll be fine. Any sport, any game, any time, anything can happen.”