Spaulding named Boys Basketball Coach of the Year – The Daily Reporter

Eastern Hancock head coach Aaron Spaulding celebrates after the Royals won their first regional title in 19 years, defeating University High School for the IHSAA Class 2A regional championship on Saturday, March 12, 2022.

Tom Russo | Daily Reporter

CHARLOTTESVILLE – They led the state in 3-point field goals made (274).

They set a school record in defense, giving up only 43.18 points per game, over five points better than the old school record set during the 2017-18 season (48.30).

But, if you ask Eastern Hancock head coach Aaron Spaulding, the Daily Reporter Hancock County Boys Basketball Coach of the Year, what was the biggest key to his team’s 2021-22 success, he’ll go to a different category.

All those categories were important, and much needed, during this past season that saw the team lead the state in margin of victory (21.29), set a school record in wins (22) and win the program’s first sectional and regional titles since the early 2000s.

The thing Spaulding believes that stood out about this club was its hunger.

Hunger to win for their school.

Hunger to win for their community.

And, hunger to win for each other and their coaches.

Eastern Hancock was coming off a 19-6 season in 2020-21, but they were eliminated in the sectional championship game by Shenandoah. The Royals had some good teams of late, but they were missing championships. They hadn’t won a sectional since 2008, a regional since 2003.

“We knew we had to get better,” Spaulding said. “We felt (in 2020-21) we had some good wins, but we had struggled against some of the more elite teams. It was about getting better in every phase of the game. We have to defend better. We have to rebound better. We have to get better shots. Those types of things.

“Our thing is going into the year. We broke on this in our huddle was just (the word) hungry. We wanted hunger for that sectional title and beyond. Just having that hungry mentality was what we were focusing on. ”

The hunger to win led them to having, arguably, the best boys basketball season in school history. It equaled the 2003 club’s post season march by reaching the semistate.

Eastern Hancock came into the Class 2A Sectional 41 title game ranked No. 9 in the state. Northeastern, its opponent, and another one of the more elite programs, was No. 11.

The Royals showed their hunger early, they helped force nine first-quarter Knights turnovers. They led by 15 at halftime and quickly extended the margin to 23, 36-13 in the third quarter. They defeated the Knights 61-48.

The game epitomized the often heard saying of one team wanting it more.

The Royals wanted it more and it showed, from tip-off to buzzer.

“Northeastern had an outstanding team,” Spaulding said. “They were very good. That particular game, if I had to pick one game, we played better (that night) than any game all year.

“We did that (sectional championship). It had been a long time since we had won a sectional. These kids were two, three, four years old the last time we won a sectional. It was something they not only wanted for themselves, they wanted it for the community, for their teammates, coaches, for everybody and they showed it. If I had to point to any game as the best game of the year. It had to be that one. “

The season had more ups than downs.

The team’s response to some down times in January gave some refocus on how they wanted to finish the season.

In early January, the Royals lost three of four games, though all were against very good teams.

They lost heart-breakers to Wapahani and Monroe Central, knocking them out of contention for a Mid-Eastern Conference championship.

They had lost by double figures to a strong Heritage Christian team and looked to have bounced back nicely. They were on their way to handing Monroe Central its first loss of the season, in the Golden Bears gym.

The lead slipped away and Monroe Central, which went undefeated until losing in its regional championship game, won 58-56.

“Struggling might be a strong word, but we lost to Wapahani in a heart-breaker – they beat us by 3. We led Monroe Central late in the game and we ended up getting beat. Heritage Christian got us pretty good, ”Spaulding recalled.

“We lost three out of four. We knew we still had work to do. We were not there yet. We had to get better if we still wanted to get to where we want to go. If I had to point to one time (as a turning point in our season), we still had to get better and that’s what we focused on.

“Those were just really good teams. I don’t think we played poorly in any of those games. It’s just we had pretty high aspirations and if we want to get there we have a little bit of work to do. ”

After the Monroe Central loss, Spaulding gave his guys a little extra motivation. When they returned home from Parker City they met in the gym.

Spaulding pulled out the scissors he, his staff and players had used to cut down the nets during the 2008 championship season. It was the last time, and only time, the scissors had been used.

“We got back and we met in the gym. I went to my office where we have a special pair of scissors, ”Spaulding said. “I bought these really nice pair of scissors in 2008. I held on to them. I hadn’t cut anything with them but the net, ever, nothing but the net (in 2008). I went and got those scissors and I told them we were going to win the sectional. We’re going to do this. “

It whet the appetite of his hungry team.

The Royals lost just one more regular season game the rest of the way, against a strong Class 3A team in New Castle. They finished winning nine of 10 regular season contests, then added five more tournament victories before losing to eventual state champion Clarksville Providence in the Seymour Semistate.

“We won the sectional and regional and I brought two pairs of scissors, but nobody wanted to use them,” Spaulding said. “They had to use the ones I bought in 2008.”

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