Time and time again, coaches tell us, “He’s our leader.”
More times than not, this means the kid has confidence. Furthermore, he has the confidence of his peers and instills confidence in them.
It means when something needs doing, he does it and his teammates take note.
This year, Northville’s boys’ basketball team had several players leading the way to the best post-season the program has ever experienced. Helping first-year coach Ryan Gander, there was senior Josh Dietrich, who moved the Falcons’ offense to 16 wins after just five last season. Jordan Williams drove the transition, which was started by the defense he and Dietrich provided at the top of the Northville zone.
Then there was Ryan VanNostrand.
Last year, in the Falcons’ five-win recovery from one win two years ago, he was a big part of what they were trying to do. This year, he was the leader of leaders. With “RV” inscribed on the back of his warm-ups, he took the Northville family where it wanted to go.
Gander has said on more than one occasion whenever he needed a shot, a play, a basket or anything in particular, VanNostrand was the go-to guy.
He was the one who turned the tables on 15th-ranked Westport in the regional semifinals. The Eagles had held Northville scoreless for 4:30 to end the first half. A seven-point Falcons’ lead turned into a three-point deficit at the break.
Then Northville’s leading scorer poured in 13 of the Falcons’16 points in the third quarter and took back the lead for his team.
The Eagles were disheartened. The momentum they had carried into the half was taken away quickly and never given back.
In Saturday’s regional championship against the top-ranked Class D team in the state, the Northville boys couldn’t overcome a strong Chateaugay team with a potent inside game. The game slipped away from them and they slipped slowly back into the locker room, many with defeated looks on their faces.
A few of the Falcons carried hanged heads, a couple carried teammate Chris Bills, who had injured his knee late in the game.
Nobody needs to tell these boys they have no need to hang their heads. They know it. But it’s still tough in the moments after your last loss of the season, for some their last moments on the court together.
If the measure of a leader is how far you lead your team or whatever group you are leading, then VanNostrand was everything Gander said he was and everything a coach could ask for in one athlete. Those others on the team, too, went the distance and helped etch their names into the history of their small town and school.
Still, defeat was in the air in those first moments after the game.
In the locker room, VanNostrand addressed his teammates. Instead of prattling on about all they’ve achieved and telling them what they all already knew, he just thanked them.
The guy who did as much as anybody and more than most to get them there was thanking them for their commitment, for their work and effort, and some of them simply for coming out for the team when they originally had other plans.
VanNostrand understood that no leader can get very far alone. This humility and respect for his teammates made him the leader he was this season and was at the heart of what brought this team so far.