INSIDE THE 18
By Adam Zundell for WVUsports.com
October 29, 2010 10:57 AM
“Who wants to have some fun?” Kramer asks excitedly as he bursts into the room.
“I do,” Jerry replies. “I do,” George follows.
“Are you just sayin’ you want to have fun, or do you really want to have fun?!” Kramer prods.
“I really want to have some fun,” Jerry continues enthusiastically.
“I’m just saying I want to have fun,” George finally admits.
Now, I’m not advocating you go and hit 600 Titleists into the ocean for amusement, as Kramer went on to do. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aIBJcLn01rE
) What is relevant, though, is the knee-jerk reaction to a simple question: Who wants to have fun? Of course, everyone wants to have fun. If you replaced the word “fun” with “win” you’d get the same response, because of course everyone wants to win.
But many athletes are a lot like George. They just say they want to win. That doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t work hard. It doesn’t even mean that don’t do all of the offseason workouts. What it means, in particular to soccer, is in that split second when you have to decide whether you are going to go for that 50-50 ball, do you give up and settle to go after the next one? Do you fight back after losing the ball or do you just concede the mistake and defend? Does every action on the field, in practice or in a game, follow your declaration: “I want to win.”?
Just a month ago, the WVU women’s soccer team was 4-4-1. Somewhere along the line, Nikki Izzo-Brown and the team had a heart-to-heart meeting. It was a hard look in the mirror, but the Mountaineers decided then that they were going to take control of their season. The result of that meeting was evident in the first training session afterwards. The players who thought they were playing hard found out what it really meant to play hard. Instead of conceding possession and making the play after that one, the group played more urgency.
The added sense of urgency, combined with the wealth of talent on the squad, has made WVU unbeatable in the last nine games. That’s different than a nine-game unbeaten streak. That’s nine 9-0 and 0, one victory shy of setting a new school record. That’s going out and winning games. You want convincing wins? How about four wins by at least 3-0? You want grind ‘em out games? How about five games won by a goal, including three wins in overtime?
The final pieces of the puzzle that get lost at times are the maturity and cohesion the team has gone through over the past two seasons. Sometimes you think you replace talent with talent and the results will just happen. Soccer is not just plug-and-play; and a young team last year is now a little bit older and more comfortable with each other. The Mountaineers are playing their best at the right time of year.
It seems to be going that way for the men’s program as well. WVU’s top four scorers are either in their first or second seasons in Morgantown, and the team has been getting better each time out rather than spinning its wheels. WVU has scored 26 goals this season with still a few games ahead of them, which is twice as many as the team scored in all of 2009. Last season, WVU could possess the ball with anyone but could not seem to make things happen in the final third of the field. Composure and confidence inside the box, particularly in the home wins against Seton Hill and Marquette, are now a strength for this squad coming down the stretch.
The Mountaineers are 9-5-2 and are 25th in the most recent RPI ratings. WVU is projected to be in the NCAA Tournament field of 48, according to TopDrawerSoccer.com. Marlon LeBlanc’s squad has already secured a spot in the BIG EAST Tournament, and it’s worth noting that the semifinals and finals will be played at the new Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J. Not only would getting to the conference tournament semifinals practically secure a spot for the Mountaineers in the NCAA Tournament, it would be an unbelievable experience for the kids to play in arguably one of the top pro soccer parks in the country. I hope the fans turn out for those games no matter who is playing in it to make it an unforgettable experience for the players.
Speaking of fan turnout, Nikki Izzo-Brown is looking for a big crowd on Sunday afternoon in what promises to be an exciting match against a Rutgers team eager to advance to the Big East semifinals, where they just happen to be the host school.
With both men’s and women’s teams playing well down the stretch, it should be a fun time to be around Dick Dlesk Stadium here in November.
So, who is ready for some fun?
Follow Adam Zundell on Twitter: @azundell