Six games into the 2013-14 season, the Forestville Hornets sat at 0-6 and it appeared they were on their way to another losing season.
Fast-forward two months.
N.W.A's "Straight Outta Compton" blasts through the speakers of the Forestville High School gymnasium as the Hornets' boys' basketball team works the layup line.
OBSERVER Photo by Jeremy Izzio
Forestville's seniors, from left, Jacob Nosbisch, Wayne Hartloff and Connor Stone, have been a major factor in the Hornets' turnaround this season, as they finished the season 9-1 in CCAA East II and won their first division title since 2008-09.
They casually shoot 3-pointers and joke with each other throughout practice.
Winning is fun and after starting the season with six-straight non-league losses, the Forestville Hornets did a lot of winning.
In 2009-10, the Hornets went 0-18. The following season, current head coach Ralph Jackson took over and things began to change.
Over the next four seasons, Jackson, a 2003 Forestville graduate, took the team from 0-18 to division champions.
"I have to admit, I was really scared of coach Jackson at first when I was in ninth grade and playing on the jayvee team," senior Wayne Hartloff said. "Whenever we had to do a drill with him or anything, you always knew you better do your best."
"He's always intimidated me a little bit," fellow senior Jacob Nosbisch echoed. "He is definitely very serious and disciplined, but now that I'm older and a senior leader on the team, he is a lot more fun to be around."
That discipline seemed to be exactly what the team needed to turn the program around. In Jackson's first year as head coach, the Hornets went 6-12 overall and lost in the first round of the playoffs.
Over the next two seasons, the team combined for a 9-27 record, missed the playoffs in 2011-12 and again were bounced from the playoffs in the first round in 2012-13.
The team was still losing more than it was winning, but the groundwork was laid. This year's team spent their whole varsity career in Jackson's system and it appeared they were ready to have a breakout season.
Then the season started and the team got off to an 0-6 start. It would have been easy for the Hornets to get discouraged, but they didn't.
After starting the season 0-6, Forestville won 10 of its next 12 games, finished the season 9-1 in the division, won its first division title since 2008-09 and earned a No. 2 seed going into the Section 6 Class D playoffs.
Winning is fun, but it hasn't always been good times for the Hornets players who were around when a division title seemed out of reach. Now that the team is winning, the players have noticed a change in the atmosphere surrounding the team.
"When we were losing we would lose and lose and guys would get frustrated and short with each other," Stone said. "Now everyone is a little more relaxed because we aren't so worried we might lose. It's definitely a better atmosphere."
"I remember times in the past where I just dreaded coming to practice," Nosbisch said. "When you go 0-18 it's not fun to come anymore. You just know you are going to lose. Now everyone has big smiles on their faces. Everyone is running harder and playing harder so it's a lot of fun."
Unselfish play has been a major reason why the Hornets have had so much success this year. Forestville plays a team-based brand of basketball and it shows on the stat sheet as well as in the wins column.
Not a single player is averaging over 10 points per game this season and no player is taking more than nine shots a game. Every player who has been on the team since the beginning of the season has started at least one game and the core starters have each scored over 100 total points.
There have been many factors that have contributed to the team's success this season, but in Jackson's opinion the main cause for the program's turnaround has been stability at the coaching position. Before Jackson, the previous two coaches left to take jobs in the south after a brief stint as Forestville's basketball coach.
"I don't think (the program was struggling) because they weren't capable, I just think there was such a high turnover rate with coaching," Jackson said. "Even when I played here it was an issue. From my ninth grade year to my 12th grade year we had three different varsity coaches.
"Because the kids had so many different coaches, I wanted them to know that I wasn't going anywhere," Jackson added.
As Jackson spent more time around his players, his tough exterior began to wear off and the players grew very close to the coach who has since led them to the program's first division title in five years.
"He is strict and a tough coach, but over the years I started realizing why he was like that," Stone said. "I realized he did it because he wanted us to work hard and he wanted the best for the team. He's a really great guy and a great coach. I really like playing for Ralph. He cares about every player."
"He's a really good coach. He knows a lot about the sport," Hartloff said. "He's very informative and he always knows what we need to do to correct ourselves. When we do something, wrong he lets us know. He's a really nice guy and is fun to be around."
Jackson and the players are in the forefront now that the team is winning games, but behind the scenes the parents have had arguably as much influence on the program's turnaround as anyone.
"I think the biggest part (of the team's success) is the parents," Jackson said. "Not only is it a great group of kids, but the parents are awesome. They get them to practice; they get them to the open gyms; they take them to the summer games and do whatever they can to help out with fundraising. Whether we win or lose, they're there showing their support."
After four years of futility, it appears that the Forestville Hornets have turned the corner. Jackson has put his stamp on the program and has provided his players with the stability they needed to succeed.
The players have bought into the system and are finally having fun after years of hard work with little return.
The parents are supporting the program and packing the gym every night to provide the team with an electric atmosphere.
Yet, at least for this season, it is all coming to an end soon.
The Hornets are set to host West Valley Friday in the quarterfinal round of the Class D playoffs. While Forestville will be heavily favored to win, its season will eventually come to an end.
At that point, Jackson will send off his first group of seniors that he has coached since their first varsity game.
"When I know that I'm not going to be able to coach them in a game ever again it's going to be pretty emotional," Jackson said. "I told them the other night, 'you guys are putting a banner on the wall and no one can take that away from you. You've left your mark on the program.'
"I can't even put it into words how happy and proud I am of these guys," Jackson added. "Regardless of what happens from this point forward in the playoffs, it has been a great run."