Monday, October 26, 2009

We are the CO-Champions!

It was the most exciting final weekend of the Atlantic Sun regular season in my 13 years in the league. There were 3 teams playing for first, 3 teams fighting for the final playoff spot, and 2 teams playing for the highest seed possible. It was even more exciting, at the end of the weekend, when we finished the regular season in first place. We are tied for 1st place with Kennesaw State. Sharing the championship is a bit of a bummer, especially since we lost to Kennesaw, but I do feel like we deserve it since we only lost one conference game.

We waited until the last 7 minutes of the regular season to claim our crown by scoring 2 goals in the 83rd and 85th minutes of the game against UNF. Jamie Loftis had a huge impact on the game when we changed her position in the 2nd half. She, deservedly, scored the game winning goal. Ironically, the person she traded positions with at halftime, Jayme Trocino, scored the insurance goal 2 minutes later. Is that great coaching to swap their positions at halftime and it have such a profound effect, or is that bad coaching for playing them in the wrong positions the other 18 ½ games?

We are the #2 seed in the conference tournament. We earned the much sought after bye into the semi-finals. However, this is the first year for the tournament to be split into two weekends, so the quarterfinals are played on October 31st, and the semifinals are played on November 5th. Of course, after playing back-to-back quarters and semis in my first 6 A-Sun Tournament appearances, there are 4 days of rest between the two games the year I coach a team that gets the bye. Before Belmont, I have coached teams that have fallen hard in the semifinals. They just could not overcome the physical and emotional fatigue of playing the day or night before. Tying Mercer in the 2007 semifinals was the best result I had ever had in the semifinals, even though we lost in penalty kicks.

My A-Sun Tournament record with JSU is 1-4-1 (I'm pretty sure). With Belmont, my A-Sun Tournament record is 2-0-3. The championship game last year was my first time to coach in a tournament championship game. Last weekend was my first time to coach with the regular season championship on the line. We talk a lot about taking advantage of these opportunities and being in these positions, because a player may not have the same opportunity the following year. It's so true. I coached 16 years before I was in a position to win the league in the last game. I think JSU had a chance to win the OVC with 2 or 3 games left in the season. That is about as close as I had gotten.

Certainly, I have to thank my assistant coaches and players for this accomplishment. Other than a Gatorade shower and some ice cream, we have not done anything to celebrate our co-championship. There is work left to do. Winning the tournament is what gets you respect and publicity and an even bigger opportunity to participate in the NCAA Tournament. The statistics are bad for #2 seeds, defending champions, and even regular season champions. I am going to look all of them up and make sure the team knows how difficult the tournament is going to be and that the odds are stacked against us.

I am not afraid to motivate the team this way. There are some teams that would not respond to negative news. This is not one of those teams. These girls love a challenge! They have for 2 years now. We deal with more than our fair share of obstacles. So many in fact that it makes me wonder... Wouldn't we be better without all the distractions, or are we good because of the obstacles we must overcome?

The team was eating dinner on Saturday night, and Renee informed me that she is making a movie about her life. It will be similar to Rudy. She will play the role of herself because "no one else can capture this essence." We spent the entire dinner deciding which actors would play all the players, coaches, managers, and trainers. This will be a star studded film with Cameron Diaz, Julia Roberts, and Angelina Jolie, to name a few. I am excited to announce that I will be played by Meryl Streep. It definitely made the time pass quickly.

What is coming up for Belmont soccer? The All-Conference Team will be named this week. Who thinks Sari Lin should be Defensive Player of the Year? Our annual Halloween costume practice will be on Saturday. The coaches are working on a couple of motivational tools for the conference tournament. We planned our trip to Kennesaw. We will play the winner of Campbell/Stetson. They play on Saturday night. We will have general practices this week and begin preparing for our opponent on Sunday.

Hopefully, I will have good news about All-Conference awards in my next post.

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