Home-court advantage can be key in postseason

The Student fans at the Central High School Girls Playoff game Friday night. PHOTO BY DANIELLE STOMBERG

In basketball, what is difficult for one team is comfortable for the other.

Home-court advantage is something every team strives to establish, making its gym a dreaded place to play for opponents. During the 2008-2009 season, the Grand Junction boys team and both the Central boys and girls basketball teams played well enough on their home floor throughout the season to earn their first playoff home game.

How well? The three teams combined went 24-2 at home.

“Since the beginning of last year, we have been stressing defending our home court,” Central’s Micheal Wiedrich said. “It has been our goal to play tough every game at home.”

But what made the home-court advantage so special for those three teams? The crowd, familiarity and pride played a role in the teams’ stellar home records.

For the Central boys team it began with pride. The Warriors cruised at home winning all 10 home games by an average of 22 points, including a 24 point win in the first round of the playoffs against Northglenn. According to the Warriors’ boys coach Phil Cain, Central playing well at home is always a top priority.

“There always has been something in the back of our minds that if we can establish a precedence at home, that will give us confidence to go onto the road,” Cain said. “We start the season by setting a goal to get a home-court advantage.”

The Central gym is 11 years old and was built to replace a facility that while nostalgic, had a major seating problem having only six rows of bleachers on each side. Current Palisade coach Steve Phillips was the boys basketball coach at Central during the 90s and said while the old gym provided a better environment, it couldn’t fill the school’s needs.

“We had some great games in that gym, but it got to the point for crowds to be comfortable, we would have to move to a neutral sight,” Phillips said. “We would play at Mesa (State College) because we couldn’t fit everyone into that gym.”

Cain is in his fifth season as the Central coach and has become very comfortable in the Central gym.

“I like the lighting in here and I think it is a nice looking facility,” Cain said. “We make sure to maintain it during the season and maybe that carries over to the game.”

The Central girls had only seven home games but won all of them. Central girls coach Todd Dixon feels there is a factor of familiarity that goes into playing at home.

“We practice on it, sweat on it, get knocked down onto it,” Dixon said. “There is a sense of comfort when you are at home.”

The Central girls have set the bar for teams holding home court. The Warriors have put together a 23-0 record at home the past three seasons. Central senior Karen Hayter said the team recognizes the tradition and wanted to continue that this season.

“I didn’t want to go out my senior season having broken the tradition,” Hayter said. “Having the home court helps because you have your crowd behind you and people from your community that come and support you.”

And the crowd takes pride in defending home court as well. Some of the Central crazies include Jarrett Higginson, who likes to make his presence felt during home games. Higginson plays junior varsity basketball and said he understands how important it is for the crowd to get involved.

“When you’re at home, you have to have your home crowd behind you,” Higginson said. “The varsity boys tell us it really helps when the crowd gets into the games.”

While Central has done a good job of defending their home court, the Central gym doesn’t provide many natural advantages. The Central gym is newer and most teams are used to playing in a gym of that style.

Grand Junction high school’s gym, is a different story.

The Tigers’ home court is in the same spot as when the building was erected in the 1950s. The gym is surrounded by brick and still contains permanent wooden seating in the upper deck.
“We go to a lot of gyms and there are not many gyms like this anywhere,” Tigers coach Dutch Johnson said. “Permanent seating, the brick, its hot but we are used to it.”

Three years ago, Grand Junction built an auxiliary gym, and rather than build the gym to hold varsity games, the plan was to keep the old gym as the game gym. Something that Johnson isn’t arguing with.

“I am glad we kept this gym because I like it,” Johnson said. “It has a great atmosphere, it gets loud in here and just has an old school feel.”

What also makes Grand Junction’s gym so difficult to play in is the fact there is not much room.

While there is plenty of seating, the bleachers are right on the court with brick walls on each end. Tigers senior Matt Wilkinson said he hasn’t seen many other gyms laid out like the Tigers.

“It is just so much different than all of the other courts,” Wilkinson said. “We get to Denver and they have huge gyms and this one is pretty compact. This gym is just history and you are proud to be a part of it.”


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