Monday, October 27, 2008

Home Stretch

The players are so busy with schoolwork this week. To add to this, we have 6 unofficial visits on Friday and 7 official visits Saturday-Monday. Time management is so important for student-athletes.

We have at least 13 prospects visiting Belmont this weekend, and the soccer field is completely torn up. I am a little scared about that. The seven young ladies on their official visits are all verbally committed. I hope they don't see the condition of the field and change their minds. The 2010 recruits that are making their unofficial visits to Belmont are visiting other schools like Tennessee, North Carolina State, UNC-Greensboro, and Furman. We are not going to come close to competing with their facilities in this visit.

Belmont has built two dorms, two parking garages, a theater, and a nursing building and remodeled 3 dining establishments since I came here in 2008. Our freshmen live in a brand new dorm that just opened its doors in August. There was just a groundbreaking for a building to house the School of Pharmacy this week. We barely finish one building before we start constructing the next. I tell visitors the rate at which Belmont is building and show them our new buildings, so they understand that when Belmont constructs a new athletic complex, it is going to be first class.

Practices went well this past week, especially Thursday night, the night before the UNF game. I wanted to stop practice then and there, and tell the team to bottle up that level of play and save it for the next night. We were fortunate to save some of it for Friday night's 4-0 win over North Florida. We scored early in the 1st half on our first shot of the night. We scored 2 goals in the last 5 minutes of the first half. When you get goals like that, you usually get wins.

We usually practice on Saturday mornings, but our field is unavailable, Vanderbilt had a homecoming football game, and USN was hosting a high school region tournament, so we watched videotape and jogged and stretched in the parking lot.

A win against Jacksonville University on Sunday would put us in 2nd place. We were down 2-0 at halftime. We had some good chances to score, but our outside backs and midfielders were defending poorly in the midfield third. That affected our center backs, and one of our center backs was pretty badly injured from Friday night's game. At halftime, we changed to a 3-4-3, and we were able to keep the ball in our attacking half. After a beautiful entry pass from Alex Mindel, Erica got sandwiched between 2 defenders inside the penalty area. The ball trickled out to Annie Musacchio who roofed it.

The career of a collegiate athlete is so difficult. When watching television, it is so easy to think that every athletic career is like Tim Tebow, Tyler Hansbrough, or Vince Young. Those stories are the rarity rather than the norm. The norm is more like Anna Holt. Holt is a senior, and she is playing a new position for us her senior year - right back. She is having possibly her best season. She is top ten in minutes played and has been a very smart defender for us. As we progress through the season, we have changed the way our outside backs are playing, and we have some younger players who are more mobile and have been getting more playing time than Anna.

Since the Florida Gulf Coast game, I have been substituting Holt in at center midfield, because we only have 4 healthy center midfielders. On Sunday, against JU, I held Holt out as the only field player who did not go in the game in the 1st half. There is no reentry in the first half. If I had used all my substitutes and Marcela (or anyone) got injured, we would have to play with 10 players. I usually do not worry too much about it, and I joke with the goalkeepers and tell them they will have to play on the field if we run out of subs. However, with Marcela's ankle as tender as it was, I couldn't take any chances, and I had to save a sub.

We were down 2-1 in the 2nd half, I was resting some of the forwards, and I put Holt in at forward. I don't think she has played or trained there all year, but that was her position last year. Almost immediately, a cross skipped by her from left to right. Jamie Bullock had gotten forward on the weak side and she drove in a low cross from close distance just the way we had trained it on Thursday night. Holt finished Jamie's cross in her first touch to score the game tying goal.

After we won 3-2 in overtime, I thanked all of our players for being team players. Alex Mindel played the entry pass to Erica on our first goal, Holt scored the 2nd goal, and Charlotte Blake drew the penalty kick for the game winner. Because of plays like these and players like these, we are in 2nd place in the Atlantic Sun. We will find out tonight after Mercer and Kennesaw State play each other, if we finish 2nd or 3rd. If Mercer wins or ties, we will be the #2 seed in the conference tournament. If Kennesaw State wins, we will be the #3 seed in the tournament.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Long Trip to Florida

Let me start by saying that when you stay in 3 different hotels in 3 days, it is hard to remember your room number.

I love taking the team to Florida every year to play conference opponents, and I hate playing in Florida. It is so difficult to play in Florida in October. We are just not used to that heat and humidity. We had unseasonably warm temperatures in Nashville before we left on Thursday. It was 85 degrees or so, but it still did not prepare us for Florida. I played college soccer in Miami at Barry University. I never lost a home game in 4 years during the regular season. We tied UCF and lost in the national championship game at home but we won all the others.

We have had a dry spell when it comes to scoring. We have given up 3 goals in our last 5 games. That should be enough to be 5-0 or at least 4-1. We are 2-2-1 in those 5 games. We need to score goals, and we worked on creating and finishing chances this past week in preparation for Stetson and Florida Gulf Coast.

They did not come exactly how we drew them up on the board, but it was nice to be up 1-0 in the first 4 minutes and 2-0 in the 33rd minute of the Stetson game. A couple of freshmen - Jamie Loftis and Gretchen Sutch were in the right place at the right time to take advantage of two Stetson defensive errors. Although we allowed a goal in the last 5 minutes of the first half, we held on to win 2-1.

It was a long drive on Saturday to Fort Myers. We were supposed to get to Florida Gulf Coast at 3:00 to watch our volleyball team play, but an accident on I-4 got us hung up in traffic for an additional 2 hours. We took the team to Fort Myers beach as the sun was setting. We had dinner with an ocean view.

On Sunday, against Florida Gulf Coast, our midfield put together one of their best games and the team played well. We couldn't get one to go in the goal, and we lost 1-0. It is our 5th 1-0 loss. We are not using our high forwards effectively, and we are going to address that in training next week.

It sure would be nice to have a spot in the conference tournament wrapped up by now. The players are feeling the pressure of school work (midterms). We will be hosting about a dozen recruits next weekend. This is the time of year that people start getting sick. We all have to catch up on our rest after the 14 hour bus ride back home Sunday. Needing a win or two next weekend just adds to the pressure.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Unexpected...

Three days after the debate, we played Kennesaw State, the defending Atlantic Sun Champions. We played them at home (Vanderbilt). After an uninspiring performance the previous Friday at USC-Upstate, I was looking forward to a Friday night home game. Evidently, our players were too.

We got off to a good start against Kennesaw State. In the 24th minute, Erica Carter received a red card. For only the second time in my career, my team had to play down a player. After overtime, it was a total of 87 minutes that we played with ten. We tied 0-0. When one team has a player ejected in professional soccer, they talk about how the one man advantage can have a reverse psychological effect for both teams. It did Friday night. Our team played inspired and determined. Kennesaw State relaxed. Both teams created very good chances to score. Both goalkeepers came up with good saves. Sari made a game changing save as soon as we went down to ten.

Since we played so well, I can admit that I was totally unprepared to play with ten. We played a 4-3-2. I'm sure that sounds crazy. It sounds crazy to me. Our two forwards attacked and defended together, and we were able to send a weak side center midfielder forward and mostly the weak side outside back forward. I used all of our players and kept a rotation of forwards and outside backs, so they did not have to pace themselves. We were on an emotional high after the tie. It felt like a win, and it felt like we would continue to play with this new found passion and desire. Then, Sunday came.

It was hot. We were drained. We lacked depth due to the subsequent suspension and some injuries. We could not get control of the game against Mercer. It made for a long, hot game. We were 9 minutes away from another overtime game, when Mercer scored. To add insult to injury, we found out that Lipscomb beat Kennesaw State earlier. It felt like a wasted weekend.

Six months ago, if you would have told me that the weekend we play Kennesaw State and Mercer that we are going to play KSU with 10 players and Belmont is going to start 1 senior, 1 junior, and 9 freshmen and sophomores, including 3 freshmen and 2 sophomores in goal and in the back, then I would probably have been happy to get a point out of the weekend. Let's go ahead and add to the equation - miss one day of practice due to rain and not have access to our field, locker room, or video equipment during the week prior to the KSU/Mercer weekend. With all of these circumstances, I should be happy, right?

I'm not. I look at the individual talent we have on this team. I spend every day with them in training. I see how we can play with the right motivation - Vanderbilt, Western Carolina, Lipscomb, and Kennesaw State. This team has not come close to reaching our potential. I expect so much more from them, because I believe in them. If we were not talented, I would be happy with the weekend, but we are talented, and we are capable of so much more.

We have less than 4 weeks to realize and maximize our potential. We will do it, and when we do... Look out!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

First Conference Road Trip

We had another pretty drive through the mountains of western North Carolina on our way to Spartanburg, SC. In a week or two, it will be even more beautiful up there as the leaves change color. I thought our game against USC-Upstate lacked energy, intensity, and of course urgency. We won 1-0, and we have now beaten the 3 teams who were picked in the bottom 3 places in the pre-season poll and finished in the bottom 3 places last season. Essentially, we are beating teams that we are supposed to beat, which is an accomplishment, especially when you see that Lipscomb beat ETSU.

On Saturday, we had a spectacular drive from Spartanburg to Johnson City, TN. In Johnson City, I did not feel great about the motivating factors we were up against. Much like the game against Lipscomb, I thought ETSU would be more motivated than us because of the following reasons. Last year, we beat ETSU 4-1. ETSU lost to Lipscomb on Friday night. ETSU was 1-2 in the conference and risked starting 1-3 if they lost to us. ETSU was at home on their beautiful field at their beautiful facility. We were playing at 3:30. That is a late Sunday game for the road team. We are usually on our way home by 3:30. And, we were playing without 2 starters - Jayme Trocino and Anna Walsh.

ETSU had a 1 on 1 with the goalkeeper in the first 2 minutes. Sari came out and pressured the forward to miss. I was hoping that ETSU was thinking that they couldn't score no matter how hard they tried. We ended up being the team that couldn't score that day. We outshot the Bucs 18-11. We easily could have won that game, just as easily as we could have lost to Lipscomb. It shows how competitive these conference games are and the margin for error is tiny.

Less than half way through the conference season, we are in 1st place. The loss to ETSU was tough, but when I saw later that Mercer lost that day, it felt worse. We could have put ourselves up by 2 games and eliminated any potential for turn around this weekend. We play Kennesaw State and Mercer this weekend. We had a great practice yesterday. I know we are prepared for the weekend, and I do not feel that we are outmatched or outclassed by either team. It just depends on how we play the day of the game.

The Presidential Debate is history. When we returned on Sunday night, there were more changes on campus. The most visible additions were the dozens of trucks carrying satellite dishes parked on the remaining soccer field that was not already covered by the 25,000 square foot building that was built for the media. It looked like Belmont was communicating with aliens or waiting for a UFO landing.

I definitely got caught up in watching the local news on Monday and Tuesday. The anchors were reporting from Belmont, and they had different reporters at different spots around campus. Like the CMT awards, it was fun to see the transformation of the campus - this time with American flags, drapes, the debate stage, TV's, etc. Everyone that wore a credential had it on a Belmont lanyard. I also watched the pre-debate shows on CNN and other news channels. It was fun to hear Brian Williams say, "the Belmont debate." It was awesome to hear the candidates thank Belmont University in their opening statements. They even mentioned Belmont in the Saturday Night Live skit about the debate.

Annie Musacchio and Renee Pilch got tickets to attend the debate. I didn't realize there was a lottery to get tickets. I guess I was just expecting someone to walk up and give me tickets considering how much we have sacrificed for the debate. I thought Belmont did an excellent job hosting!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Debate 08

Belmont is preparing to host the Town Hall Presidential Debate on Tuesday, October 7th. It is a great honor and opportunity for Belmont to host such a significant and historical event. Most Belmont students, faculty, and staff are making sacrifices for Belmont to be able to have an event of this magnitude on our campus. I know I am biased, but I believe there are few who are sacrificing as much as the young ladies on our soccer team.

It has been interesting to watch the changes around campus as the debate nears. Yes, we have watched the construction of temporary buildings. We have witnessed the removal of all the weights from our weight room. The training room was packed up and moved, then carpeted. Most recently, they put up a fence around campus and placed a security guard at each entrance.

All of these things have caused our team some problems. This morning, the soccer balls were accidentally left on the Belmont campus when we arrived to train at Vanderbilt's field. The car that drove back to Belmont did not have the required parking sticker to get past the security guard and get close to the locker room. When our player went to swipe her card to gain access to the locker room, it wouldn't work. I guess we are going to have to keep the balls and cones in our cars.

Other inconveniences our players are putting up with are changing clothes without a locker room, driving to different high schools around Nashville for our tournament during the gas shortage, driving off campus to the training room, and the debate is still a week away. There is much more to come.

We practice on Tuesdays and Thursdays at night and 10 ½ hours later, we practice on Wednesday and Friday mornings. The temperature is usually in the 60's and 70's when we practice. The temperature is usually in the 80's and 90's when we play our games. The grass is almost always wet when we practice and usually dry when we play games.

Probably the biggest shock happened last Thursday when we went to our locker room to watch and make a copy of a videotape of a recent game. Our television, 2 DVD players, videotapes of games, a few beanbags, the rolling hamper, refrigerator, and peanut butter were removed from our locker room and are being stored off campus until after the debate. Our team has not been able to watch the Lipscomb or Campbell games to help them prepare for this weekend.

We leave for Spartanburg, SC on Thursday and will return late on Sunday night. We cannot park or leave our cars on campus. The bus cannot come on campus. As I write this, the athletic building is being shut down. The student-athletes cannot get in this building without being escorted through security by a coach with a staff identification card.

Despite all of the inconveniences, we have an overall record of 7-3 and 2-0 in the conference. I know I have told you more than once how young our team is. I am proud that the ladies are not allowing the distractions to affect them. They are not complaining (much). They seem to be taking everything in stride. I will not be allowed in my building or office when we return from our trip. The students had to sign up to be allowed back on campus when we return Sunday night. They must have requested permission and will have to show identification to get back to their dorms on Sunday.

Belmont University is going to be a great host site for the debate. I do enjoy working at a place that strives to host events like the debate, television shows, concerts, etc. I think it shows vision, purpose, and drive in Belmont's leaders. It takes work and sacrifice from Belmont's non-leaders, but I know we will all benefit from this exposure.

Battle of the Boulevard

We had 9 days between our game with Western Kentucky and Lipscomb. It was an opportunity for some of the injured players to rest and get healthy. It was an opportunity to improve in training and really prepare for our first 2 conference opponents - Lipscomb and Campbell. While I was very happy with the way the schedule was set up, I was worried that we could come out flat against Lipscomb from not having been in a game competition in over a week.

The Battle of the Blvd always makes me nervous, because Belmont has never lost to Lipscomb in women's soccer. I think you could argue both sides that this causes one team to have a psychological advantage over the other. At the beginning of a game, Lipscomb would be more motivated to win for the first time. At the end of a game, Belmont would have the advantage because we believe we would not lose. Not to ignore the physical components of the game, but I think we saw both psychological factors play out in our game last Tuesday night.

As the game got underway, I thought the team was playing well, and I would not have to be concerned about any sluggishness or lack of motivation on our part. Twenty minutes later, after 2 counter attacks and a corner kick, we were losing 2-0. Although there was plenty of time remaining, I was worried that we might be the first Belmont team to lose to Lipscomb.

We have scored some important goals on set plays this year, and Ivy heading in Jessica's free kick with 1 minute remaining in the 1st half, ranks as high as any of the others. Other set play goals this season are Annie Musacchio's penalty kick to tie Murray State in the first 5 minutes of the 2nd half. Annie's game winning direct free kick against MTSU. Charlotte heading in a corner kick from Alex Mindel ended up being the game winner against ULM. Possibly the most dramatic set play goal was Jamie Loftis heading in Erica's throw in at Western Carolina in sudden death.

Being down by only one goal at halftime, instead of two, was a big lift for us. We knew we had to be urgent, but there was no need to panic. We had a great chance to score in the first 2 minutes of the 2nd half, but it ended up taking 35 minutes for Jayme Trocino to tie the game at two.

I was most thrilled for Jamie Bullock to score the winning goal against Lipscomb in her senior year. It was just over a minute into the 1st overtime period, and she took a shot that she had been passing up most of the game from about 20 yards out. The Lipscomb goalkeeper is the 2007 A-Sun Defensive Player of the Year and she is not easy to beat with shots from distance, but Jamie has scored 2 great goals on her 2 years in a row. I thought for a senior to get the game winner in overtime against our biggest rival was sweet. Hopefully, we will have more feel good stories this season.

Non-Conference Games

I guess I could say this every year, but I think our non-conference schedule has prepared us well for conference games. We have defended skillful ground attacks, high pressure aerial attacks, counter attacks, 3 forwards, 2 forwards, wide players, etc. We have played in heat, wind, rain, dew, etc. We have lost in overtime. We have won in overtime. We have been up by one and maintained a lead. We have been down by one and pressed to equalize. We have come from behind to win. We have lost players to injury. We have been lucky, and we have been unlucky. We have been mature and focused, and we have been immature and unfocused.

We have learned a lot since August 14th, and we will continue to learn, but I believe we are well-prepared for this part of our season.

The one thing we have not done is play at home. Construction for the temporary media building started on September 8th. The building will house the various media that are here for the Presidential Debate on October 7th. You can see pictures of it on this link.

Other than one practice at University School River Campus, one game at Battle Ground Academy, and one game at Brentwood High School, we have been practicing and playing at Vanderbilt University. I appreciate all the help and support of the coaches and administrators at USN, BGA, and Brentwood High. They were very nice to allow us to use their facilities. Without the help of the coaching staff at Vanderbilt - Ronnie Coveleskie, Cristin Czubik, Eric Vaughter - and their Director of Soccer Operations - Lori Alexander - I don't know if we would have a place to play this year. Vanderbilt's facilities are first class. For them to allow us to use them has been above and beyond expectations.

Youth and change are going to be underlying themes in all my entries. It is very common for us to start 8 freshmen and sophomores, 1 junior and 2 seniors. Our non-conference results have been good but very different than last year when we only gave up 2 goals in our first 9 games. Unfortunately, we are allowing far more goals than we like. You can bet that is going to be addressed in training as we prepare for our conference opponents. There will be a few changes going into conference games. It takes a few games to sort out where and how each player can contribute most. Some of our injured players have gotten more healthy, but some of our healthy players have gotten injured, so that is something we will continue to deal with.

Consistency is another problem. We had some players get off to a slow start, but they are playing well now. Anna Walsh is one of those. At the same time, we have some starters who are not performing to the level that they were a month ago. We must continue to win as we go through these peaks and valleys. Then, we must all be peaking for the conference tournament in November.