Sports in general are a roller coaster of highs and lows. You can plan and prepare for every scenario, but something can still come along and derail everything.

This basketball season for Henry County and Eminence has resembled that roller coaster.

The Eminence boys basketball team finished with its best record in 10 years. The senior class of Josh Ruzanka, Elijah League, Morgan Powers and Bladin Malone gave the Warriors a legitimate shot at reaching the regional tournament and set the tone for the team. Losing in a close semifinal game to the eventual district champion, Gallatin County, cut their run short, but each player battled until the very end and never gave up on each other. In his first year as head coach, Brandon Gabbard elevated the program and gave his team a strong foundation to build on going into next season.

The Eminence girls basketball team started the year with three straight wins, but ended the year with a 4-21 record. Joshua Keene took over as head coach and brought an unparalleled level of encouragement to each game. As a team without any seniors, one junior, and several middle schoolers seeing minutes, the Warriors never backed down from any opponent and played their hearts out each game. The win-loss record doesn’t reflect the effort Eminence gave each night.

Each time I talked with Keene after a game, he always had a huge smile on his face and expressed his gratitude just to be coaching the team. When a coach cares that much about his players, it’s easier to get through tough days.

Through it all, the girls stayed together, in part by having a strong, supportive leader at the helm.

The roller coaster was also felt over at Henry County. The Lady Cats overcame an injury to Ashlyn Tingle in the middle of the season to finish the year playing some of their best basketball. After sitting out several games, Tingle returned to finish the season and boost Henry County to the semifinals of the district tournament.

Her grit and determination surely motivated the team. An integral part of the team’s success in recent years, having her back to take down Oldham County for the first time in 25 years and put up a fight in the postseason to get back to the Eighth Region tournament was extraordinary.

Tingle, Meg Golden and Emily Herbert came into the program during its “down time” according to coach Jim Hook, and brought it to where it is now. Even this season, when times got tough, each player stayed the course and gave themselves a chance at the end of the year to make a statement. The adversity from this year, and how they overcame it, will be beneficial going forward.

On the boys’ side, the Wildcats ended with a 3-26 record. The team had guys in and out of the rotation with injuries, and coach Derek Tingle relied on several underclassmen to play big minutes throughout the season.

In the final game of the year in the quarterfinals of the district tournament, Henry County nearly upset Eminence for a spot in the semifinals. That game was possibly the most complete performance the Wildcats had all season, and the heartbreak of being on the cusp of a major victory and falling three points short will stick with them.

Even when losses added up, Tingle’s squad never turned on each other. They kept fighting, together, to finish the year. After the season-ending loss to Eminence, Tingle said he would take his team, character wise, against any team in the country, and I believe it. He has instilled in his players the importance of being a good teammate and it will carry over into the coming years.

Across all four teams, the highs and lows of the season were met with grit and perseverance. Strong leadership, whether from a coach or players, can carry a team far, even if the record books don’t indicate such results.

Whatever obstacle came their way, each team met the challenge with grace and a strong work ethic. Coaches can teach X’s and O’s all day, but they can’t easily teach hustle and heart. Luckily, every team had both.

The roller coaster of basketball season was still a wild ride of ups and downs, but with those qualities, each team made the journey a little less bumpy and a bit more thrilling for years to come.