Campus News

Retiring Coach Mike Lightfoot reflects on ‘magical season’

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The Bethel men's basketball team’s “magical season” came to an end on March 11, with a loss against Bellevue University in the elite eight match-up of the NAIA national tournament. The Pilots fought hard and evenly with Bellevue throughout their final game, but ultimately lost in overtime, with a final score of 77-75. The Pilots ended the season with an impressive 31-5 record. 015-XL Head coach Mike Lightfoot discussed his perspective of this incredible season. Talking with parents of students after games this season, Lightfoot would consistently hear the same description over and over and over: this was a magical season. “(It was) almost a magical year with so many amazing things happening,” said Lightfoot. “We overcame a lot of crazy events with the team and these players. The bus broke down twice, we were robbed in Florida and (had) a tornado warning delay before our first game in Branson (Missouri). But despite all of that and playing through injuries so well and overcoming a lot of things, we were able to do some incredible things while having incredible chemistry, which made it a lot of fun.” Entering this season, the Pilots had high expectations to live up to. They were ranked third in the preseason conference rankings and projected to be ranked within the top 20 in national rankings. “We were very optimistic coming into the season,” said Lightfoot. “We had 90 percent of our scoring coming back, as well as lots of experienced players. But then all of a sudden Caleb (Oetjen), Clay (Yeo) and others got injured. Then it became a little more difficult to imagine us doing that well with all of the injuries. We thought that it may be more likely to be .500 this year.” The Pilots went from having high expectations on the season into more practical and realistic-minded expectations. But just as the situation seemed most bleak, the Pilots fought their way back into the top of the conference, seemingly with ease, something that Lightfoot chalked up to strength in numbers and depth. “’Next man up’,” said Lightfoot. “That was our theme for this season. When somebody went down with an injury, someone else rose to the front and kept us rolling.” Lightfoot continued, “Having (Yeo) and (Oetjen) come back so strong was huge. Winning 16 conference matchups was big. But going from a fragile team into one that was able to be resilient and strong was a really tremendous accomplishment of its own.” Beyond the acts of coming back and fighting through adversity, Lightfoot claimed that some of the greatest accomplishments of this group lie within its consistency throughout the season. “Winning the conference is something that is pretty special and a great memory,” said Lightfoot. “Coming back and winning conference tournament was incredible. That doesn’t happen a lot, winning both conference and the conference tournament, so that was incredible.” Lightfoot found this group of seniors most worthy of all the success and such a wonderful final season. “I wanted to go out with this group because of what they’ve done as a collective group,” said Lightfoot. “To win 110 games and win conference three times, both are amazing. But more importantly, being able to see their character and their will to succeed was just special.” Though the magical season ended a couple steps too early for Pilot players and fans alike, Lightfoot still believes that he wouldn’t change anything. “I’ve not been one to look back and wish differently on things,” said Lightfoot. “Coaches have a tendency to live for the next game and forget about the moment. I did a lot better job this year of focusing on each moment instead of the next challenge ahead of me. Enjoying this practice or game or whatever moment was in front of me was something I learned to take advantage of this year.” Now that the season has concluded, Lightfoot has begun to look towards the future. Apparently, he has considered some very “high-profile” options for life after Bethel. “(I am) still waiting on the phone call for the IU coaching job,” said Lightfoot with a laugh and a smirk. “But in all seriousness, it’s God’s timing, and I need to have patience. I’m sure that something will come up, and I’ll be able to use my skillset to help others.” He continued by saying, “I think the main thing is to continue to have a purpose everyday. My best days truly are yet to come. I’m not going to be the type of guy that gets off on a horse and rides off into the sunset. I’m still looking forward to new challenges in the future.” As he steps away from coaching, Lightfoot seems himself as blessed by the effects that basketball has provided him through many lifelong friendships. “The main thing that I’ve learned, especially this year, is that relationships are everything,” said Lightfoot in reflection of his historic career. “You only get this one time around to build relationships with people, and Bethel is a tremendous place to build those kinds of friendships.“ It didn’t end with a championship banner, but this season was still one for the Pilot’s history books. This team has gone through so much, but ultimately they have grown closer through it all. “This team had incredible chemistry,” said Lightfoot. “They had a tremendous love for one another. To be successful we have to love one another. That was a very easy task with this group of guys. When you get a group of competitive and highly talented guys on one team, that’s not always the norm. They really care and love for one another and that’s been incredibly special.”
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