Thursday, May 15, 2008

Coach Takes One For The Team

The past year has been an interesting ride for the U11 Sharks. It has been a year of controversy, hard work, disappointment, and achievement. People have walked out, walked on, not shown up, and arrived late. We've played in the smog, in the smothering heat, in the rain, in the bone-chilling cold, in the snow, of all things, and in the wind. We lost some games we should have won, and won some we should have lost. Through all of this, progress has been consistently made towards the state rankings of the Gold team; as of 08 MAY 08, this is where they stood:

National ranking #144 out of 1232 u11 teams in the Nation.

Region III ranking # 95 out of 434 u11 teams in our region.

Georgia ranking # 29 out of 194 u11 teams in the state.

Having looked at some of the scores of the past year made these standings come as a bit of a surprise, until you consider the teams we have played this year, as compared to the teams that some of our opponents have played. We have played some pretty tough teams, who have handed us some of our losses, but the fact that we played them and lost has given us the advantage over some of the other teams that played lesser teams and won. These rankings are the best evidence of that advantage. That shows just how hard everyone has worked, and also how far we have yet to go.

So, as we near the end of this season, we commit to play the President’s Cup tournament. All the best teams go to the President’s Cup. Practices leading up to the tournament are grueling, and the coach tries to take all the things they’ve seen during the spring season and work on the weak spots and finesse the strong spots – the tourney is going to be tough, we have to be ready. The schedule comes out, and we are grouped with Athens – one of those games we should have won during regular-season play; here’s our chance for some payback! And, just as an added bonus, for the first time ever, we don’t have the first game of the day – either day!! Yay for us! See, those rankings are already paying off J Just as a little added incentive, the coach tells the boys, “If you guys make it to the finals, I’ll get a mohawk!”

So we arrive for our first game, against the Snellville Stokers. I don’t want to say it was a cake walk, because it was a tough game, but let’s just say the final score of 3-0 should have been more like 6-0; we capitalized on a few things, and missed a couple of others, but in the end, all to the good. Our second game is against Athens, and it’s time to show them how a passing team plays on a field bigger than a postage stamp. This game was a bit tougher, as Athens is a very physical team, and we really aren’t, but in the end, we came out victorious, with a score of 2-1! Take that, Athens! Notice I’ve made no mention of the reffing; that’s a whole other rant for another day. Suffice it to say it was less than stellar, and in no way advantageous to us.

So, we are in the semi-final round on Sunday, and playing a team we know nothing about, the Stone Mountain YSA. There are storms overnight, tornadoes and rain and all kinds of chaos, and who knows what shape the fields will be in for our 9:30 game. The games are all moved back 1 hour, to let the weather clear and fields dry, but there is a wind advisory in the area for the entire day – great. We always do so well when the weather is weird – not. So we arrive at the fields, and really, they aren’t in bad shape; a bit soggy, of course, but not mud pits as we thought they might be. And the wind advisory doesn’t disappoint; it’s blowing pretty steadily, and as the top layers dry out, there’s a red haze for about the first 6 inches above the ground, and everyone downwind is being sandblasted.

We watch the Stone Mountain team warming up; hmmm, this one’s going to be hard to call. They have some big boys, and they look quick, but their warm-up doesn’t show us much of their skill set. The game starts, and the wind is definitely a factor; corner kicks are just a disaster, not to mention, when the ball rolls out of bounds, it just keeps on going for 200 yards before we can get to it. We’re all going to be worn out just chasing the ball down, let alone actually playing! After 50 agonizing minutes, the game is tied 1-1. Since it’s the semi-final, we go to a 5-minute double-overtime (5 minutes in each direction). The score remains tied 1-1. All of the parents on are the edge of our seats (and cleaning the dust out of our eyes and mouths every 30 seconds)! So it comes down to penalty kicks, 5 from each team, alternating one at a time. Nails are bitten down to the quick, parents have their eyes covered, boys are visibly apprehensive, and the wind is just horribly annoying. After some just crazy saves, we remain tied, 2-2 in PKs! Oh my god – how long is this going to drag on??? Now to Sudden Death PKs. Stone Mountain kicks first – and it is saved by Chris!!! Up steps Abel to take ours, and you can see how unsure he looks; his dad has his shirt pulled up over his face and is pacing a hole into the ground behind us. Abel aims, steps, and it’s in!!!! We won!!!!! The team explodes onto the field, the Stone Mountain boys and parents are standing there in utter disbelief (a couple of which were probably looking for someone to punch; classy, huh?), it’s mayhem on the field, and the wind is just blasting merrily away!!! Holy cow, they’ve done it!!!!!!! We go on to the finals!!!!!

Back Row: Coach Will, Coach Todd

Middle Row: Simon, Josh, Kaleb, Chris, Nick, Jake, Chandler

Front Row: Connor, Cory, Abel, Michael, Will

So now we’ve got a couple of hours to kill, regroup, rehash the game. This is the point that I’ve come to realize that the game the coach sees and the game I see are usually vastly different, so if possible, I really try to just not discuss it. Perfect time for a snack and a nap. We have learned that the Stone Mountain team has not been beaten in regular season play, in fact has not been beaten since they lost the final round of last year’s President’s Cup. That’s a pretty impressive feather in the LSA cap, don’t you think? But we are meeting CSA – Columbus Soccer Assoc. – in the final, and we know they are tough; they didn’t get to the finals on good looks and charm. But then again, neither did we. So the coach has butterflies the size of pterodactyls, and the wind continues to blow. A picture is taken of the Finalist team, we are as prepared as we can be, we hope. The game starts, and it is indeed tough. A bit of controversial reffing (on par with the weekend, really), boys are getting tired, parents are down a couple of layers of skin, figuratively and physically, and 50 minutes later, after a heroic effort, the Sharks end the game down 2-0. Columbus are the U11 Champions. We go to the Awards Presentation, and the Sharks all receive silver medals, and the Columbus boys receive their gold medals, and the wind blows merrily on. As we are all wrapping up and preparing for the haul home, the promise of the Mohawk comes up; they did what the coach asked, they got to the finals, in spectacular fashion, I might add, so Mohawk it is. It just so happens that Kaleb’s mom is a licensed cosmetologist – hair-cutter, whatever – so she volunteers to do the job, at Tuesday’s practice. Yep, more practice, as we still have the canterbury Cup to prepare for.

It’s Tuesday, and all the parents are assembled; I even make it to ACSC to witness the event – I-85 was a parking lot only because I had to get up there on time. It has been arranged to have the office available, and the sweeper is ready, and Tab has her clippers and comb at the ready. Earlier in the day, I got a call from the coach; he was NOT looking forward to this at all, but that’s what he gets for opening his mouth – he’s not getting an ounce of sympathy from me (as usual). Everyone troops into the office, and the boys are all hooping and hollering, helping the coach to the chair. He gets his drape on, and the clippers are plugged in, and off it comes. Of course, Mr. Hard-Core Asst. Coach is really upset that this isn’t down to the scalp, in “true” Mohawk fashion, but hey, the coach still has to go to work on Wednesday, you know. It was pretty darn short with a #2 guard, but we all talked him into going down to #1. And no one had any gel – we forgot the gel! But, a can of hairspray did make an appearance, and Tab pulled that mess of curls up as well as she could. The boys were happy, though there was some discussion as to who was next – the parents were volunteering the kids who DID not volunteer themselves (Dylan), but in the end, only one scalping was had. Well done, everyone!!!

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the parents for a wonderful season, and thank you for your support of your coach and your players; we couldn’t have accomplished any of this without all of you. We hope to see everyone at tryouts, and look forward to kicking some more butt in the coming season!!!!!

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