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 www.A-Sun.tv, 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 A-Sun.tv 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.