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.

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