Monday, November 30, 2009

Community Service

Every semester the team participates in a community service event. We have done several free soccer clinics for young kids. The team has volunteered at the Country Music Marathon and the Strides Against Breast Cancer walk. Last weekend, we planted trees in east Nashville.

Working with the girls on projects like this gives me an opportunity to learn more about them. I learned that they had no idea how to plant a tree. I was not much more informed, but at least I know that you have to dig a hole deeper and wider than the roots of the tree. We split up into several small groups and planted 30 trees in less than 2 hours. The trees were planted on a street that I use often. I am so excited about driving past the trees almost on a daily basis and watching them grow. My family was in town for Thanksgiving, and I pointed out the exact 3 trees I planted (with Sari and Morgan) every time we drove by them.

Belmont is decorated for Christmas. They started decorating after Halloween. There will be a lighting ceremony on Monday. Belmont looks beautiful from Wedgewood with the white lights on Inman, Massey, Freeman, and Infinity. There is also a huge Christmas tree with colorful lights outside the Curb Event Center on Belmont Blvd. It is very pretty.

The Belmont campus has grown and improved so much in a short amount of time. During the fall season, we had 5 cranes on campus at one time. We are down to 3 cranes right now. I have watched Belmont build 3 new dorms, a nursing building, and a pharmacy building in 5 years. I have also witnessed the student population increase from 4000 to 5000 students.

I don't think Belmont has been able to add the same amount of parking spaces. In fact, spaces have been lost due to new buildings and construction. Most of the freshmen used to be able to park next to their dorms but now have to park in the Curb Event Center Parking Deck. I used to be able to drive once around the deck and find a spot pretty easily. Now, I spend much more time in the morning driving around the parking deck and walking to the building. I am not complaining. I am just explaining the growth of Belmont and the changes in our everyday lives.

Belmont just started a School of Pharmacy and is starting a law school in 2011. I am proud to work in a place that is so progressive. During this time of thanksgiving, I am grateful to work with such quality young women at a prestigious university in a wonderful city. I am thankful for all the success we have had these last few years.

The team has been gone for Thanksgiving. Other than planting trees, Preview Day, and the Raleigh Shootout, it has been a slow time. I got a good parking spot this morning!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Championship Game

I was dizzy when I woke up Saturday morning. This day felt so different than 1 year ago. Last year, our goal was to get in the championship game. I was not nervous about the team playing in that game. I had such a sense of accomplishment after beating Kennesaw State on their home field in the semifinals. I did not feel pressure to win the final.

This year, I feel pressure to win the tournament. I’m not complaining. I can get used to this. I plan to be in this situation year in and year out. The expectations are far different than years prior. I’m happy about that.

I felt fine before the game. My anxiety was gone after speaking with people. I get nervous if I spend too much time alone. We have our pre-game talk in the hotel in the billiard room. We didn’t get to use the pool balls this year for our chalk talk. I like to joke that when Derek comes in the room that Mr. Greene is in the billiard room with the… (weapon of your choice). Ha ha.

Rarely do I talk about the big picture in the pre-game speech. I don’t say things like, “If we win the game, we will be in 1st place in the league.” Winning back to back tournament championships was so significant that I had to talk about it. The last team to do so in the Atlantic Sun was Central Florida. UCF was feared and respected by all the A-Sun teams during those years. They beat my team 4-0 in the semifinals in 2002. For us to be put in the same category or mentioned in the same sentence as UCF would be a huge accomplishment and compliment. I want to beat all current A-Sun teams, especially Kennesaw State, to this feat.

The weather was beautiful. Before the game, I made sure to talk to the team about narrowing their focus and not worry about the magnitude of the game. All they needed to concentrate on were all the things that got us to that game – team defending, winning 50/50 balls, winning tackles, possession, changing the point of attack, beating defenders, getting to the endline, etc.

I was happy with the way we played in the 1st half and with being up 1-0. We had not lost a game in which we scored first all year. The 2nd half was more difficult to enjoy. Kennesaw State raised their level and they got great play out of players who had not played that well against us in previous games. Their first goal was quality. Their 2nd goal was unjust. It was an unintentional handball about 17.5 yards from goal that the official saw and gave the “play on” signal. While play continued, the assistant referee would not stop waving his flag, the referee blew his whistle, and gave a penalty kick. All of this happened while we played with 10 players, because Morgan, our defensive center midfielder was down on the field with an injury in front of our bench. Disappointedly, we will live with it. As much as all sports are a game of skill, a game of tactics, a game of teamwork and effort. It is also a game of inches, a game of breaks, and a game of luck.

The best thing that could have happened for us is if we had scored a goal immediately after they scored their first goal. Jayme Trocino ran down a long ball, got to the endline, and beat a player enough to push the ball to the near post. Erica was in the box, and tried to finish the ball in the far post. There was not enough pace on the cross, and Erica couldn’t get enough on it to beat the keeper. It was within a minute of KSU’s goal, and it would have been the difference in the game.

It was difficult to talk to the team after losing that way. My main message was do not let this game detract from your great season. Do not let this goal detract from your experience of playing in the conference tournament. We will be back!

Right after the game, a person from the A-Sun handed me an All-Tournament ballot. I had thought about the All-Tournament Team a little bit in the middle of the night one night. It was a difficult time for me to recall any of the players I considered. I’m not sure if I even voted for anyone that made it. I know I voted for Annie, the Stetson goalkeeper, and the KSU player that scored the first goal. The person for whom I was most happy making All-Tournament was Elizabeth Bublis. As a forward, Bublis did not have great statistics. She did have 6 assists this year, but what she lacked in goals and assists, she made up for in corner kicks, fouls, hard work, great defending, high pressure, dedication, and leadership. Those qualities are irreplaceable.

On the way home, I made my rounds on the bus. I did not know exactly what to say to some of the players. Mostly, I listened and patted people on the back. Everyone was frustrated, and they needed to vent. Although disappointed, I remained even keeled after the game, on the bus, and at home that night. I cried most of the day on Sunday, at least until the Cowboys beat the Eagles, then, I felt better.

Keep checking on the blog. I will update it with post-season happenings, Christmas party, grades, Signing Day, spring season, etc.

Thank you for your interest in Belmont women’s soccer. It was a great season. I am very proud of our program. We will work hard to repeat as champions and win the tournament in the same year. That is where we are headed.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Day Off

We do not do much on our day off, especially during the tournament. We had beautiful weather. Our practice time on Friday morning was 10:00. At the field, the defenders practiced their footwork for defending Kennesaw State’s good dribblers while the midfielders and forwards played a possession game and the goalkeepers got some catches. Then, we lined up the non-starters to look like Kennesaw State and show our players what certain situations might look like in the game.

We did not require ice baths Thursday night, so we were planning on getting ice and making them take ice baths that morning. Kyle suggested the swimming pool. I assumed the pool was heated or it would be covered. When we got back to the hotel, Kyle checked it and said it would be perfect for an ice bath. And it was. However, it was colder than the ice baths the girls are accustomed to in the Rubbermaid tubs at Belmont. I am not sure whose faces were more amusing to watch – the girls as they sat in the pool or the hotel desk clerk when I asked her for towels for the pool. The players were giving Kyle such a hard time about how cold it was that Kyle jumped in the pool, I guess to prove anything they could do he could do better. He made a big splash, and Sari and Morgan would not talk to him the rest of the day.

The swimming pool made me think about my job. If you asked 20 people to get in a 50 degree pool for 10 minutes, would they do it? I have a lot of power over a group of people. It requires respect and trust. I admired those girls for getting in that cold water. The pool was just a small reminder of the mutual trust, respect, and admiration required to be a good team.

We had lunch at Boston Market. I try to eat there as much as possible during the season, but this was the first time we had Boston Market all season. In Jacksonville, I took the team to eat at a Boston Market where we had eaten the last time we were there, 2 years ago. It had turned into a McDonalds. It was pretty funny.

After spending the afternoon at the hotel, we went to Maddie Porter’s house for dinner. There was horseshoes and a bonfire. After dinner, the team played the animal game. (It’s similar to thumper.) Jamie Loftis was the champion. We watched the highlight video with the parents and the players who had not seen it yet. It was great to have the whole team together. Only 22 were in the official travel party, but the other 5 came to Kennesaw on their own. After the video, I thanked all the players for coming, thanked the Porter’s for having us, and thanked my staff. It was a great evening not spent at a long table for 30 in a chain restaurant!

We had a team meeting back at the hotel, and I was exhausted. You would think I would have a hard time falling asleep the night before a championship game, but I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I was up in the middle of the night going over a list of penalty kickers, so I never fully catch up on my sleep.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Atlantic Sun Semifinals

With 10 days between games, we finally had the opportunity to train consistently, if our field would cooperate. The field was unplayable 2 of the 10 days and soft all the others. However, we had our best training sessions of the season heading into the conference tournament. That’s the kind of stuff that makes coaches confident.

We got to Kennesaw State on Wednesday at 3:00 for practice. After practice, we checked into our favorite hotel – Homewood Suites. Then, we went to dinner at Ippolito’s – the same Italian restaurant where we ate before the championship game last year. After dinner, we had a team meeting in my hotel room. We handed out t-shirts, player passes, AND the championship trophy. It was a little anti-climatic presenting the trophy to the team in that environment, but it was nonetheless a symbol of achieving one of our top two season goals. Then, we watched a motivational highlight video that Derek made for the team.

I do prefer the 4:00 game time. The afternoon weather is usually better this time of year. There is less time to kill before your game. There is more rest time before your second game. Before we went to lunch, we jogged and stretched in the hotel parking lot. I had written a note to each player on homemade stationary and passed them out at this time.

We had a very scary moment at lunch. One of the girls told me that Gado was sick to her stomach. I started looking for her and couldn’t find her. I walked outside and was startled to see her lying on the sidewalk, curled up, and sweating. Of course, I automatically assume Swine Flu. I start thinking about Gado and what are we going to do to make sure she is ok and getting her back to the hotel immediately. I also start thinking about her roommates and what are we going to do with them. If I split them up in rooms with other players, is it likely to spread through the whole team? There was a lot going through my mind.

When we got back to the hotel after lunch, Gado did not have a fever. A heating pad and some Aleve was all she needed to start feeling better. Thank goodness!

The game against Stetson started like I hoped it would. We had numerous opportunities to score. We were taking high percentage shots and keeping them under a decent amount of pressure. We weren’t completely dominating. Stetson was getting forward and getting shots and corner kicks. I liked our chances.

I sent Annie Musacchio to the table to check in. I did not think she had actually checked in, because we pulled her back very quickly to talk to her. When the ball went out of bounds, the person at the table did not blow the horn, and we did not make the substitution. When Annie tried to enter the game on the next opportunity to substitute, the 4th official would not allow her to go on the field. He said she had already checked into the game, and she could only check in once in the 1st half. She missed her opportunity for the half.

While I argued the call, we almost scored. I had to get another forward or two ready to go in. I knew I wasn’t going to win this argument, so I decided to grovel a little. In the end, a senior would miss the first half of the semifinals.

At halftime, we encouraged the team to keep up more of the same. I thought having Annie fresh would also be a big help. Stetson started winning those 50/50 balls in the midfield that we had been winning in the first half. That is all it took for the momentum to change. It was a competitive 2nd half and looked to be headed to overtime with less than 10 minutes remaining.
We sent a ball over the top of the Stetson defense. I’m not sure if the Stetson defender threw her hands in the air because she was off balance or she was intentionally knocking the ball down, but she committed a blatant handball about 30 yards from the goal with 7 minutes to go in the game.

During the regular season, Annie scored the tying goal against Stetson on the same free kick she shot to score against Alabama A&M and set up the winning goal against Campbell. We knew Stetson would know how to defend this free kick, so we put in some alternatives during the last week of practice. In the first half, Jess got her free kick blocked because Stetson had definitely put in a plan to defend it. Annie looked a little frantic when she huddled with Gretchen and Jess to decide what to do. She wanted that shot. It was a little further out than the one she hit during the regular season, but it was at a better angle.

Because our first free kick was blocked, I thought Annie should shoot directly and not have her teammates touch it. It was direct, but we play all kicks as if they are indirect. We had practiced a decoy runner, and I was disappointed not to see one involved in the play. Another option that we had not practiced but addressed at halftime was to dribble by rushing defenders and shoot off the dribble. I feel like I can read the defenders and give good advice as to what to do. However, it is important for players to decide for themselves. They are the ones playing. They are the ones in the moment, and they, hopefully, know what they are capable of doing under the circumstances. Earlier in the season, the players had set up a free kick against Mercer, and the coaches changed it from the bench. I still regret not allowing them to go on their first instinct. Especially the older players who have practiced it over a period of time, I have a lot of trust in to make good decisions and think they have earned that.

As the Kennesaw State assistant coach said that it was out of her range on, Annie ripped it under the crossbar, ironically, in the same top corner she scored in 3 weeks before. Stetson was stunned, and they did not throw as many players forward as I expected. The team did a great job of finishing off the game.

We went back to the hotel for dinner, showers, chocolate milk, and warm clothes. We went back out to the field to watch the 2nd half of the Kennesaw State vs. Jacksonville game. I told my team that they were not allowed to cheer for either team, and they were not allowed to talk to any KSU or JU students that they did not know. Not that I need to tell them, but I remind them.

After last weekend, I have taken a new sense of pride in my team and their sportsmanship, professionalism, humility, and character. We were not impressed by any of these traits in the hosts of the tournament. The complaints started immediately after the game by parents, alumni, and Belmont fans who watched the game on and the complaints continue today by people who walk by my office and send me e-mails. I imagine the same thing is going on at Stetson. They have a right to be unhappy about their treatment. It is hard to tell exactly when it will happen, but most often we all get what we deserve.

Finally, I want to let you in on a little secret of our success this season… chocolate milk. In September, Derek read or heard that chocolate milk was an effective recovery drink, more effective than Gatorade. He confirmed this theory with the cross country coaches, and the team has been drinking chocolate milk after the Friday night game since we played Tennessee Tech. Our conference record after drinking chocolate milk was 5-1-1. Hopefully, it will work for the championship game.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Halloween Practice

We had the best Halloween practice ever last week! It is tradition for us to dress up one practice near Halloween. It is also tradition for the girls to have group costumes by class. This Halloween, we had the weekend off. We trained hard on Friday and Sunday to simulate a regular season weekend. Saturday was our light day, so we dressed up and had a scavenger hunt. The scavenger hunt probably ended up being more fitness than a Saturday practice.

The freshmen dressed as Noah’s Ark. With all the rain we have had this season, it was very appropriate. Kailee was Noah complete with a beard, robe, boat, and dove. The roommates dressed as pairs of animals. Rock and Trappey were rabbits. Vanessa and Laura were turtles. LP and Brandi were lions. Jane Owen and Spencer were peacocks. There was no guessing who they were or what they were. Their costumes were elaborate and detailed.

The juniors were Sesame Street characters. Patience was Burt. JayTro – Ernie, Marcela – Elmo, Maddie – cookie monster, Erica – the count (with fangs and a cape). Jess was, appropriately, Big Bird. I loved her hair, whatever it was. Unfortunately, they were missing Oscar the Grouch because Lydia had H1N1.

The seniors were characters from Saturday Night Live. Alex looked exactly like Mary Catherine Gallagher. Annie was a good Sarah Palin or Tina Fey doing Sarah Palin with the flute for the talent portion of the interview. I don’t know the name of Renee’s character, but she “Needed more cowbell.” Funny. Bublis was Justin Timberlake. If you are not sure what Justin Timberlake character she was, here is a hint. She was wearing a box around her waist. It was hilarious!

The sophomores not only had an eerie costume, but they had a choreographed dance to go with it. I think they were called the Jabberwockis. Unfortunately, due to a generation gap, I am not certain of who this dance group is, but I think they are on a dance show on MTV. They were in black sweats with hoods and baseball hats, bandanas, and white masks. They looked like a good bank robber movie. The sophomores did not show up to our meeting place in the loading dock. They called me to meet them in the dance studio. When the team got up there, they did a dance that they had gotten some moves from a movie we watched on one of the first road trips. I think it was Step Up 2 or something. The dance was awesome!

After the dance, the girls had to run around Belmont getting pictures of Athletes House – drinking water, Bongo Java – bussing a table, Circle K – pumping gas, etc. It was Preview Day, so they even had to involve some visiting families in their quest. The sophomores got bonus point for getting Dr. Fisher in one of their pictures.

After the scavenger hunt, there was one more thing to do. The freshmen had to sing their song. Every year, we have a freshman song. We usually do it at the beginning of the year, but I forgot during pre-season, so they got to wait and do it at the end of season. Their song was to the tune of Andy Sandberg’s, “I’m on a Boat.” It was a great way to end the greatest Halloween practice of all time!

Monday, November 2, 2009


I am sure you are tired of me talking about all the “firsts” that I have been experiencing over the last two years. This is another entry with more record breaking, history making accomplishments.

For the first time, Belmont had more than one person make First Team All-Conference. Two would have set a record, but we blew that out of the water by getting four players on the first team. They are Sari Lin, Gretchen Sutch, Jayme Trocino, and Erica Carter. All four are very deserving.

Sari has the lowest goals against average in the conference (.51). Only 2 conference teams scored on her during the regular season. Gretchen is one of the most athletic outside backs and best individual defenders in the conference. Jayme Trocino is our leading scorer and tied for first in the conference in goals with 10. Erica Carter is one of the most feared forwards in the conference. Her speed and strength makes her one of the most difficult players to defend.

Laura Harris was the only unanimous selection on the All-Freshman Team. Laura has added a physical presence in the midfield for us. She is great in the tackle and fearless in the air.

I am grateful for the votes and the respect of the other coaches, but I think some of our players missed out on some recognition. I think Sari should have been Defensive Player of the Year. She shut out 8 of 10 conference opponents. I think Laura Harris should have been Freshman of the Year. How is she the only unanimous pick and not be the Freshman of the Year? More of our defenders should have been recognized on the second team or freshman team. Jessica Rix, Marcela Sanchez, and Brandi Phillips are starters for the team with the lowest goals against average in the conference (.65). We are tied for first in shutouts (6) and goals allowed (7). Morgan McBride also helped us with these league leading statistics.

Offensively, Annie Musacchio is in the top 10 in points and top 4 in assists in the conference. Elizabeth Bublis is also in the top 4 in assists. I am sure the other coaches feel like some of their players were also slighted. It’s just part of the process.

After practice on Wednesday, I received a text from Kenisha, our media relations director. It said. 1st Team – Sari, Erica, Gretchen, Jayme
Fresh Team – Laura
Coach of the Year – YOU!

It was actually a fun way to find out about Coach of the Year. I started shaking. It was fun to tell the team after practice. I think Gretchen got the biggest cheer of the 5 players. Not because she deserved it more or less than any of the others. Her position of left back could easily be overlooked and underrated. It is nice when a person in that kind of position gets recognized for her hard work and ability.

Definitely, the biggest cheer was for Coach of the Year. The team has been nothing but supportive of me in one of the most difficult seasons in my career. All the rain has compounded our field issues which caused many more problems than practices and games. I lost my grandfather the first week of the season. I lost my cat the last week of the regular season. One of the more difficult parts has been managing a team of 27. The girls don’t make it difficult. I think they have handled it quite well.

There are not enough hours in a day, not enough practices in a week, and not enough games in a season to completely involve, fully develop, and thoroughly communicate with all 27 players. Can it be done over a period of 4 years? Absolutely. Can it be done in 3 months? I don’t think so.

I certainly do not dislike having 27 players. I do find it to be a challenge, but I think the numbers of players increase our potential. That is why I want to manage them as best as I can.

Hopefully, I will have time to tell you about our (best ever) Halloween practice before we leave for the tournament. If not, I’ll see you in Kennesaw.