The New York Yankees get it.
So do the Los Angeles Lakers, the Duke Blue Devils in college basketball and Notre Dame in college football.
The Grand Haven Buccaneers are starting to figure it out as well.
When you’re on top for too long, the target on your back becomes a brutal burden to bear.
People love to cheer for the underdogs and pull for the favorites to get knocked off.
That’s becoming the case with the Buccaneers.
Sure, it’s been that way all season. Coach Katie Kowalczyk-Fulmer has noticed it.
“A lot of people give us their best efforts,” Kowalczyk-Fulmer said. “It would make a lot of teams’ season just to beat us.”
Last year, things were different. Grand Haven was the loveable team from a small town doing everything possible to win its program’s first-ever state title.
This year, things are different. The Buccaneers are the defending state champs, undefeated over the last two calendar years. They’re the team everyone’s gunning for.
That fact has become even more noticeable come tournament time.
The district tournament wasn’t so bad — the games were played on Grand Haven’s home court.
But the regionals have been brutal. First came the semifinals at Traverse City against Gaylord. There’s a brotherhood among those who live in the northern part of the state. They tend to stick together, especially when one of their own is going up against a bunch of flatlanders like the Buccaneers.
Every time Gaylord hit a basket, the decidedly pro-Blue Devils crowd went crazy. A first-quarter turnover by the Buccaneers elicited cheers typically reserved for the fourth quarter of a tight game.
It was more of the same in the regional finals against Grandville. The Bulldogs’ fans were rabid, doing everything they could to propel their team past the favored Buccaneers.
Next comes Tuesday’s Class A quarterfinal showdown against Grand Ledge at Lansing Eastern High School.
The Comets will already have a home-court advantage geographically. Their campus sits just a dozen miles from Lansing Eastern.
Add to that the fact that Grand Ledge is playing in the state quarterfinals for the first time since 1991, and it’s a guarantee that the Comets will have a raucous fan base cheering them on.
It’s the price teams pay for winning it all. The minute you reach the top of the mountain, someone wants to knock you off and take your place.
The Buccaneers have dealt with it all year, taking everyone’s best shot. And the crazy thing is, they’ve shrugged off those blows and are still standing tall. They lost four of their five starters from last year’s team to graduation, yet still found a way to go 25-0.
That’s a testament to this team. The mental toughness it takes to slog through a basketball season that began back in November and is still going in March is tremendous. These girls have done what few thought they could, and they’re still going.
There haven’t been many easy games this year, and they only get harder from here, but if there’s one thing we’ve learned over the past year, it’s not to bet against the Buccaneers.