When we finished our conference schedule, we were in 2nd place. As you know, the top two teams get a bye to the semi-finals of the tournament. The problem was not all the teams had played all their games. Specifically, Kennesaw State, who was 2 points behind us in third place, had to play Mercer. If Kennesaw State tied or lost, then we would finish in 2nd. If they won, they would get the 2nd seed and the bye to the semi-finals on their home field.
In 2005 and 2006, our team got caught waiting for results from other teams' games. In 2005, if Jacksonville would have beaten Stetson, we would have qualified for the A-Sun Tournament as the 6 seed. In 2006, we were waiting for the Gardner Webb/Campbell result to get us into the tournament. I forget who we needed to win. I assume it was Campbell. Obviously, it did not go our way. While it does feel much better to wait for a result to see if you are going to be the #2 or #3 seed, it is still not fun. I think in the long run it is going to be good for the team to think about the advantage of finishing in 2nd place. However, for this year, I did not want the team thinking that if we finished in 3rd place that we could not win the tournament. I did not want them to be too upset if Kennesaw State won, which is what happened.
We got our seed, we got our practice and game schedule, and we got our opponent. It was time to prepare. We thought Stetson would play a 4-4-2 with a 1st Team All-Conference player at center midfield. We watched video and trained a few things we thought would be effective when attacking and defending Stetson. We practiced set plays and lots and lots of penalty kicks. We did not train at a consistently high level, but with the injuries and numbers we had, we had a decent preparation. Without looking ahead too much, we would throw in an exercise that we thought would be beneficial against Kennesaw State.
The biggest regret I have of last year's tournament was not practicing penalty kicks for the 2 days immediately prior to our first game. It was due to weather and classes and travel. We had practiced pk's for 2 weeks, but the last time we practiced them was on a Sunday, and we went to penalty kicks against Mercer on Thursday. This year, we were going to practice penalty kicks rain or shine, and we were going to practice at Kennesaw State even if we had to miss extra classes to do so. This is just one example of the kind of dilemmas I face. If we go into penalty kicks at the end of a game, probably six players will be involved. It could be a few more, but that is unlikely. In order to practice penalty kicks at the tournament site, I have to use our practice time which is assigned by the conference office. It means I have to take 22 student-athletes out of class, so we can get to KSU by our 1:00 practice time. It is not as easy decision to make. It is not easy for the student-athletes.
So, I make this decision to leave at 8:00 so that we will be at KSU by 1:00 EST for practice. The bus was over 30 minutes late to pick us up, and we only have 50 minutes on the field, so now we don't know if we are going to make it or not. Thank goodness Wendy made tournament goody bags for the girls to take on the bus. Because we skipped lunch and the rest area, we arrived at the field right at practice time. We will never know if that penalty kick dress rehearsal was the difference in a tournament championship or not, but it didn't hurt.