No room for doubters in Oshkosh

After critics declared UWO a team likely to disappoint fans in the tournament, the players have proven the nay-sayers wrong as the team embodies the ‘Titan way.’

Nate Proell, Sports Writer

For the first time ever, the UW Oshkosh men’s basketball team advanced to the Final Four of the NCAA Division-III Championship tournament. However, with experiencing great success for the first time comes a lot of hurdles that must be overcome, including what I believe to be the focal one: doubt.

While the basketball team is having its own “first-ever” moment, that certainly was not the first time I have heard those words in my three years as a sports beat writer.

In 2016, the UWO football team made history when it earned a trip to the national championship Stagg Bowl for the first time in program history and then went on to have a record-breaking 2017 season.

I believe both teams’ recent accomplishments are not solely from pure luck but instead a combination of skill and hard work. However, while the school’s two biggest sports programs are putting the Titan name on the map, there is no doubt it has been done with the feeling of being the underdogs.

In the case of the basketball team, after being named right before the tournament “most likely to disappoint” by in their portion of the D-III tournament, the Titans defied the odds.

Not only did the 24th-ranked Titans surpass the third, sixth and ninth-ranked teams in the country to get where they are now, the Titans accomplished what was believed to be near impossible.

Especially considering UWO squeaked its way into the NCAA tournament after falling in the semifinal round of the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament, where the Titans came in with a third-ranked conference record of 9-5.

Of course, while the “experts” and some doubting fans thought the best the Titans could maybe do was make it to the Sweet 16, UWO team members always had faith.

“I don’t know if anyone was expecting us to make it this far, but I think everybody on our team knew we had the capability to do so,” junior guard Brett Wittchow said before their Elite Eight victory over Augustana College to make the Final Four.

Hearing Wittchow say those words in person really hit a nerve in me because that was not the first time I have heard a Titan student athlete express the feeling of doubt or lack of support.

It is certainly true that organizations with no long history of success need to prove themselves, and during that process there will be doubt. However, I have learned that doubt can be viewed in two ways.

The first way is by letting it be an emotional downfall. And the second way it can be viewed as is motivation and fuel. After the countless conversations I have had with student athletes here at UWO, I think it is safe to say that the latter is what every Titan athlete views doubt as.

I have always believed sports are much more than a game and that it is an escape from reality and an activity that creates community. It is one of the many things in life where you can set your sights on being the best and then work towards that goal. Everyone can grow from sports, including the fans.

If there is one thing the men’s basketball team is currently teaching the Oshkosh community, and what many other UWO sports programs have proved recently as well, it is that being a Titan means never giving up. It means working hard towards goals and always being the best.

In fact, a clear-cut example of the grit Titans have been displaying occurred just this past weekend in Illinois.

Over the weekend, Titan senior guard Charlie Noone went from having a career-high 32-point game in the Sweet 16, to having a mere 6 points in the Elite Eight match-up against Augustana. He was also forced to sit out for a majority of the second half due to fouling out after receiving a technical foul.

Although Noone was not able to make as big of an impact in the game as he had wanted, the team found a way to overcome his lack of presence. Junior guard Ben Boots managed to take full control of the game and went on to score 36 points to beat Augustana and seal UWO’s ticket to Salem, Virginia.

When asked about his team’s ability to overcome the challenge in the post-game conference, Noone said it is simply what Titans do.

“It’s just the epitome of what it means for us to be Titans,” Noone said. “We don’t rely on one or two guys, or even three or four, we can rely on all 15 or 18 of us. And that’s just awesome.”

So whether it is in sports, the classroom, the workforce or wherever else you see fit, one thing I believe the basketball team is in the midst of proving is we can all take our doubts and use it as fuel to overcome our challenges, because that is what Titans do.