HUDSON — The sounds of triumph and excitement were a loud, echoing expression of their latest battle for respect.
Through an open door, around a corner tucked inside the Ridgewood Rams' locker room, was a group of young players chanting, clapping and becoming a team. Overcoming an adverse scenario helps people bond.
"You hear them," Emrah Hamzic said referencing his teammates' chants. "We're having so much fun playing like this."
On Tuesday, Ridgewood fended off a furious comeback at Hudson for a 75-63 win that had been sliced to a four-point game in the final five minutes. It was just the latest episode of the Rams vs. their coach, Gary Anders.
"We were pretty good friends this summer when we were winning and not practicing," Anders said. "As it got closer to the season when we started working and I wasn't happy with them. I didn't like their attitude and I didn't like their effort. We just work on it day to day."
Hard to believe it has been almost 10 months since Anders stood outside a visiting locker room at King after a 45-37 loss to the Lions in a Class 5A region semifinals. That night, Anders stood outside in the dark, consoling players such as senior Alvin Satrum, who hugged his coach once more in tears.
Anders, who guided Ridgewood to postseason berths seven of the past eight seasons and picked up career victory No. 500 along the way, was contemplating his own future.
Now in his 23rd season at Ridgewood, every year ends with a personal decision.
"I wasn't thinking about what we had coming back," Anders said. "At that point, it was about what we had lost. … The bottom line was I still felt like I wanted to coach. If you make that decision to coach, I don't care who you're coaching; you owe them your best. That's where we're at right now."
Anders didn't think of what was returning that night, but one of those players was point guard Jacob Rauh, who scored a team-high 10 points. Another was Charles Jones, who Anders said is averaging more than 20 points this season.
The summer months provided an opportunity for Ridgewood to find familiarity with its new lineup.
On Tuesday, Hamzic led all scorers with 21 points while Rauh scored 20 and Jones, who missed most of the first half due to foul trouble, finished with 13.
"This year he has to step up and take a huge role," Anders said. "They've taken a tremendous amount on their backs and are doing a good job. … We put a lot on them and they've responded."