Finding the silver lining in a 2-19 season is a lot like looking for the electric bill that was inadvertently tossed out with last week's garbage.
Sure, you can probably find it if you look hard enough, but you have to dig through an awful lot of foul stuff before finally getting there.
For Tonganoxie High boys basketball coach David Walker, that meant surviving the stench of 18 straight losses to open the 2004-05 season before finding a nugget of hope in the form of two consecutive victories to close out the regular season.
While the Chieftains ultimately closed out their dismal season with a loss to Kansas City Sumner in the opening round of the Class 4A sub-state playoffs, Walker knew he had found a rallying point in all the head-hanging despair.
"I think what that did for our kids is give them a sense of urgency for working in the offseason," said Walker about the back-to-back triumphs against Perry-Lecompton and Basehor-Linwood. "I think we had some confidence from the two wins last year. We thought we had made some strides in the right direction and that if we continued to do those things, we thought we could have some success."
While it's still early in the current campaign, the Chieftains haven't wasted any time shifting those optimistic thoughts into positive results. Off to a 4-0 start overall and a 2-0 mark in the rugged Kaw Valley League, they're easily the biggest surprise to emerge thus far in the 2006-07 high school basketball season.
What isn't shocking are the circumstances that have allowed it to happen. There hasn't been a coaching turnover, an influx of more talented players or a drastic change in the style of play that provided a sudden jolt to the program.
Instead, Walker, in his sixth year at the helm, points to a handful of basic building blocks necessary in any reclamation project.
"Execution. I think we're playing smarter. We're taking better care of the basketball," said Walker, who helped usher in that development by simplifying the Chieftains' offensive game plan during the offseason.
"And chemistry - I don't know that you can even pinpoint it, but our chemistry is really nice this year."
Of course, the fact that Tonganoxie is 4-0, and not the other way around as it was at the same point last season, undoubtedly has provided a boost in the team-harmony department. The big question now is whether the Chieftains can keep their winning ways and their winning vibe.
Tonight's non-league trip to De Soto closes out the pre-holiday portion of the Chieftains' schedule. Once they return from the land of presents and mistletoe, it's back to the daily grind of league play, where Tonganoxie finds itself lodged in the "bigger" half of the KVL. While already owning a victory against Lansing, a Class 5A program, still to come is the rematch, as well as a pair of games against fellow 5A programs Bonner Springs and Mill Valley, which finished fourth at last year's state tournament in Topeka.
"I think anytime you can get a good start, you're going to gain confidence," Walker said. "As you gain confidence, you're going to feel better about facing those opponents."