Scott Thomason broke from tradition at the start of the basketball season.
He sat his veteran-laden team down to watch film from last season’s upset loss to Central Valley in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs.
The 11th-seeded Hawks closed the game on a 13-2 run and limited the Timberwolves to just 1-of-18 shooting from beyond the arc in a 60-43 victory.
Thomason doesn’t make it a habit of ripping open old wounds, but with four returning starters and the promise of titles in their forecast, he felt a trip through the one of the program’s darkest moments was necessary.
So he hit “play.”
“I think it worked a little bit,” Thomason said on Thursday, one day after the seedings for the 2015 section playoffs were announced. “The guys were hungry.”
And boy, did they feast.
Sierra ran roughshod through its pre-league schedule and the Valley Oak League, amassing a 25-2 mark en route to its fourth straight VOL title. With that body of work, Thomason believed his team to be one of the top-two teams in the section.
The seeding committee felt otherwise, dropping the Timberwolves to No. 3 despite a loss by No. 2 Vanden in its regular-season finale on Tuesday.
That loss was to Fairfield, Sierra’s opening-round opponent on Wednesday.
From this corner of the section map, it appears Vanden and Fairfield, which needed to beat its rival to clinch a playoff berth, were both rewarded with that result.
“I’d be lying if I told you we weren’t disappointed not being a one or two. Vanden lost on Tuesday night and I thought that would push us up to No. 2,” Thomason said. “It is what it is. You have to play quality teams anyways. Our team, myself included, we don’t care who we play. We feel sorry for whoever they put in front of us.”
Athletic and full of momentum, Fairfield (13-13) is a troublesome 14 seed.
The Falcons reached the Division III final a season ago, falling to Modesto Christian, “so they won’t be in awe of anyone,” Thomason said.
He believes his schedule, from the preseason tournaments to the rigors of VOL play, have prepared his team for this opponent – and those that hopefully come down the line.
For instance, Fairfield plays with the same style and pace as, say, Weston Ranch, a team Sierra has swept the last two seasons.
“They’re athletic. They’re quick. They’re going to pressure us full-court and try to trap us,” Thomason said. “They’re a good offensive rebounding team and they’ve got good guard play. ... It will be a hard-fought game and we’re excited.”
The son of a former collegiate coach – for whom he played for – Thomason has become a master at getting the most out of his teams.
With four returning starters, he didn’t have to drill too deep with this bunch. The pain of losing to Central Valley on their home floor festered just beneath the surface.
Thomason said his players and coaches will use that memory as fuel as they pursue the program’s fourth Sac-Joaquin Section finals appearance and first blue banner.
“We’ll come out with a chip on our shoulder,” he added. “We’ll be motivated and ready to go.”
The pieces are there to make a run.
Sacramento State-bound center Joshua Patton anchors a starting lineup that also features returners Hunter Johnson, Devin Nunez and Daniel Wyatt. Junior Jess Spivey is the only new face.
“We got the balance. We have enough pieces. Are we good enough to just show up and beat people? No,” Thomason said. “I know we’ll play hard. I know we’ll be ready to compete. But you have to get stops. You have to make shots. You have to take care of the ball in critical situations. You have to make free throws.
“We got great leadership; guys with a lot of pride that will prepare themselves to play well on Wednesday night.”
Sierra is positioned opposite the bracket of VOL rivals Manteca (No. 5) and Weston Ranch (No. 9), both of whom have to contend with top-seeded Christian Brothers.
The Timberwolves face a potential second-round matchup with the winner of No. 6 Florin-No. 11 Vallejo. Vanden could await Sierra in the semifinal round at Cosumnes River College.
The mantra that has seen more miles than the team van – “We’ll take it one game at a time” – has never carried so much weight.
“We tell our kids if we don’t have pressure on us than we probably have a boring life,” Thomason said. “I relish the pressure and so do the kids. That won’t be a factor. ... If you don’t like the pressure, you shouldn’t be playing team sports.”