The shine is off Rancocas Valley's state championship.


The Red Devils received jackets and rings after winning the state Group 4 title in boys' basketball in March. The jackets are still around. The players wear them to practice all the time.

The rings? Out of sight and out of mind. That's the plan anyway. The players agreed to stow the bling to underscore their understanding that last season is history.

"We put them away, because this is a new year," senior guard Mike Bersch said.

Coach Jay Flanagan said one of his assistants, Dan Haussman, came up with the idea as a way to turn the team's attention to 2008-09.

"They can wear the jackets, but they have agreed to put away the rings for this season to show that last year's accolades mean nothing now," Flanagan said.

Defending a title is one of the toughest tricks, and basketball coaches have been known to try just about everything to stay on top.

Some like to point at the banners on the gym wall and dare their players to take their place up there. Some refuse to even mention the previous season.

Some regularly compare the current team to the previous one as a way to motivate players. Some see each team as separate from the rest and defined by its own chemistry, its own internal dynamics, its own identity.

Bill Hiltner, a longtime coach at Sterling whose teams won several Colonial Conference titles, said he always stressed the past - and not just the previous season, either.

"I always made it a point to make sure the kids understood the tradition," said Hiltner, who retired from Sterling last year and works as the athletic director at St. Joseph's of Hammonton on a part-time basis. "If you won something the year before, I was OK with talking about that and pointing that out. It was something that we always talked about."

Hiltner said he often asked former players to come back and talk with the current team about the tradition at Sterling.

"I would bring back Johnny Wilson, bring back Ernest Turner," Hiltner said. "I would walk out the gym and let them talk to the kids. That's a powerful motivator for the kids to hear a former player."

Wildwood won four consecutive state Group 1 titles in the early 2000s under coach Dave Troiano, thanks in large part to sensational guard Monica Johnson.

Troiano, who has been the Warriors' coach for 31 years with more than 500 victories, said in those days he always pointed to the previous season.

"Back then, it was, 'We've got to keep it going. We've got to do it again,' " Troiano said.

But in recent years, he's taken a different approach, even though his teams have won Tri-County Conference Classic Division and South Jersey Group 1 titles.

"I think you have to relax and have fun out there," Troiano said. "I think any reference to that kind of stuff puts undue pressure on them.

"I always tell them, 'It's a new year. What happened in the past doesn't matter.' "

Flanagan said he has been trying to strike a balance between using last season as a motivator and leaving it behind so his players can focus on this season.

"I try not to get into comparing this team to that team," he said. "I want them to establish their own identity. But we've set goals. I told them we should try to improve each game, and that we should set our sights on playing March 9. That's the date of the sectional finals."