The stretch run has turned literal in the East Valley, as changes brought on by computer scheduling are leaving boys and girls basketball programs struggling to catch their breath.
Like football, the basketball regular season has been compacted to allow for less overlap with spring sports. Additionally, scheduling conflicts with holiday tournaments and school functions have made three-game weeks much more commonplace as teams moved games to later in the year.
The last three weeks couldn't have lined up much worse for both the Mountain Pointe boys and girls teams. The Pride programs played three games last week and will play three more in each of the next two to end the season.
By contrast, Desert Vista plays twice a week during the same time frame, possibly leaving the Thunder fresher for the postseason.
"Once in awhile is OK, but to go three weeks in a row with three games in a week is tough," Mountain Pointe boys coach Brian Fleming said.
Fleming said various problems arise when teams play three games in a week.
Although he said the physical drain isn't a huge drawback, it's mental preparation that suffers, especially during back-to-back contests.
"They're 15, 16, 17 years old, they can run all day, every day," Fleming said. "Mentally is the big problem. If you lose to Desert Vista by one, then you have to come back and play Gilbert? Mentally you're drained. You tell them, ‘Hey guys, erase it.' Mentally it's just as much of a toll."
Fleming said it's also tough to scout a team when it is the second night of a back-to-back because the players need to focus on beating the first night's team.
"We can still watch film, but if we've got Corona (first), we don't want to show them a film on North," he said. "The kids have to go on memory."
The Chandler girls basketball team played three games last week. The Wolves will also finish the year with a three-game week.
Add in a pair of tournaments, and it's been almost non-stop game action for one of the top Division I contenders. Coach Zon Thompson said his team has only practiced twice in the past three weeks.
"It's kind of a nightmare," he said.
There are outside issues, as well.
The influx of games each week has made gym time precious. Mountain Pointe did have a practice day available last week, but since there was a wrestling meet in the main gym, Fleming had to coordinate times for the varsity, junior varsity and freshman to use the small gym, keeping in mind that the girls program needed space, too.
"Where do six teams practice?" Fleming said. "It is a little hectic for practice times and facilities."
And then there's the matter of missing school.
Several games had to be moved around this season because the computer didn't account for when each school had its final exams or other testing in December.
With no other option, many coaches had to switch their schedules and tack on more three-game weeks.
Now that the season is winding down, it's taking a toll on everyone.
"Last week we went to AJ and then D-Ridge and then Higley," Williams Field coach Jessica Melvin said. "Higley, obviously, isn't far at all, but all three are away games and we're gone 16 hours including school, and the kids are running the same schedule as us (coaches).
"Now it's killing you and you're tired and you have to get up the next day and do it all over again."
In football, the shortened schedule wasn't a big deal because it simply eliminated bye weeks.
However, from the moment the schedules were released, many local basketball coaches knew it would be an adjustment.
If the three-game weeks are here to stay, Fleming hopes there can be an adjustment moving forward.
"In a perfect world it would be better to do it early than do it late," he said. "I know they have to put them somewhere. I don't like Saturday games but maybe move one to a Saturday. Back-to-back is just not easy to do."
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