Battling a demanding three-game stretch at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex, the Highlanders reached great heights. They went 2-1 on the trip, including a victory in the championship game of their division against an El Toro (Calif.) team that is widely considered to be a top 100 team nationally.
Before landing in Orlando, Pingree coach Steve Gibbs viewed the trip as a reward to his seniors after three years of hard work. Those seniors rewarded the veteran coach with arguably the biggest win in program history with their 72-65 win over El Toro.
“You plan it 12 months or so in advance and have no idea how they might turn out in terms of who you play. What happened was, I think, by playing against three national elite teams (Mercyhurst Prep of Pennsylvania and Bartlesville of Oklahoma), we really brought the best out in ourselves,” Gibbs said.
“After soccer and football all fall, now it came to making the transition to basketball. This trip was seven days together and it was good for the kids to come together and galvanize as one unit. It really happened on this trip. It was wonderful to win the way we did, but to me probably what was more important was the memories and the experience of this team coming together.”
Senior point guard Johnnie Spears played at an elite level while on the trip, winning the MVP for his efforts.
A super-quick player who excels on the defensive end, Spears was also a superb facilitator on the trip, posting a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
“We could have given (the MVP) to a bunch of guys, but he got it just because of his tenacious ability to shut down the other team’s best player and his ability to be a facilitator,” Gibbs said. “All the guys around him, he made them better. Without him there’s no shot to win those games.”