The bandwagon makes a stop at WLI Field

Last spring my youngest niece began playing soccer in a local league.  I went to a few of her games (after all, I am the sports dork in the family).

The games were for the most part conducted in a congenial atmosphere, with families watching their charges at play.  Her team was, to be honest, not the most skilled of squads.  This wasn’t exactly surprising, as they were all first-graders, and most of them were new to the game.

The basic plan of attack went like this:  if the ball rolled in the general vicinity of a player, that player would attempt to kick it, hopefully in the right direction.  There was no guarantee that significant contact with the ball would be made.

A goal-scoring opportunity would occur if a player managed to kick the ball hard enough to get it close to the other team’s net; then there would be a meeting at the ball of a number of players on each team, and if the right kick happened at the right time, and the keeper wasn’t up to the task, then a goal might be scored.

Well, maybe the squad was a little better than that.  The girls did practice every week, and were instructed in the fundamentals.  During the games, the team’s coach would organize his troops.  “Stay in position!  Stay in position!” he would yell, somewhat mournfully.  Staying in position (or perhaps just staying focused) was seemingly a hard thing for them to do.

I watched the team play three times.  It won once and lost twice.  One of the teams it played had much better players and won 4-0.  Clearly that outfit had brought in ringers. The other two opponents were more on their level; the girls lost 2-1 to one team, and beat the other one 2-0.  During the spring season, they were basically a .500 outfit.

After the summer break, the team started play again for the fall campaign.  I didn’t realize there was a fall season, so I wasn’t prepared for the telephone call I got a few weeks ago from my brother.  First he told me that the team had played two games already; then the conversation went something like this:

Him:  “They won 8-0 last night.”

Me:  “8-0?  Did the other team have more than two players?”

Him:  “Yeah, they just…well, I can’t explain it.  But…our team is real good now.”

Me:  “Did they get some ringers like that other team did?”

Him:  “No, it’s the same girls as in the spring.  It’s just they got good all of a sudden.”

Me:  “What was the score in the other game they played?”

Him:  “10-0.”

Me:  “Did she score?”

Him (and I could see him grinning, even over the telephone):  “She scored a goal in the last game.”

They later won a game in which they scored twelve goals, and apparently there is now talk that they are too good for their league and might have to move up an age level, which seems a little unfair to me, kind of like asking Oregon to play in the NFC West (although maybe that’s not such a stretch, come to think of it).

I was thinking about my niece’s team as I contemplated the rise of another soccer team, that of my alma mater, which has made an even more improbable leap.  I wondered if comparing the two outfits might be instructive, but I thought better of it. Maybe someone could have seen the improvement in my niece’s team coming, but there is no way anyone was expecting the season The Citadel has had in soccer.  No one, that is, except perhaps head coach Bob Winch:

[Question] Did you see this coming?

“Yeah, a little bit. Last year, we were successful defensively and we always had a chance in our games. This year, we’ve been able to score some goals and that’s helped us win some games.”

Let’s go over some stats…

Through early October of 2008, The Citadel’s women’s soccer team had an alltime record in Southern Conference play of 0-74-2.  No, that’s not a typo.  On October 10 of that year, the squad finally won a game in the league, beating Georgia Southern 2-1. The Bulldogs would drop their final six SoCon games that year and finish 1-10 in the conference.

That was two years ago.  Last season The Citadel finished with a record of 2-7-2 in SoCon play, beating GSU again (the program’s first league road victory) and also knocking off Chattanooga.  The two ties were both scoreless matches played over the same weekend in games at Appalachian State and at Western Carolina.

The team’s noticeable improvement in competitiveness garnered Winch the league’s coach of the year award.  It’s not often a COY award is given to someone whose team had a winning percentage of just 27% in league play, but it’s not often a coach doubles his program’s alltime conference win total in one season, either.

This season, of course, has gone beyond that, and then some.  The Citadel won 7 of its 11 conference games, including first-ever wins over Wofford, Davidson, Elon, Appalachian State, and Western Carolina.  In league action, The Bulldogs were 4-2 on the road and 3-2 at WLI Field (in the regular season).

I don’t know if you can give Winch another coach of the year award for that.  Coach of the century, maybe.

When I was researching the league-only SoCon stats for women’s soccer, I was struck by how The Citadel had managed to finish third in the league despite not leading, or even being that close to leading, any significant statistical category.  There are twelve teams in the conference.  The Bulldogs’s rank in official statistical categories is as follows:

Goals – 6th

Assists – 9th

Shots – 7th

Goals allowed – 10th

Saves – 5th

Shutouts – 10th (tie)

Fouls – 5th (tie)

Corner kicks – 6th

Offsides – 11th

Yellow Cards – 5th

You could argue, I suppose, that The Citadel being 11th in offsides calls against is a good thing, although it could also suggest a lack of aggression and/or possession. At any rate, it would appear to be a statistic that has no bearing on a team’s win-loss record, at least in the SoCon.

The Citadel is only in the top 4 in one statistical category (besides wins, of course). The Bulldogs finished in first place in the league…in red cards.

There were two red cards shown in conference play this season, and they were both given to Bulldog players. (In addition, Bob Winch, given a red card in the league tournament game against Furman on Sunday, was apparently the first and only coach to be dismissed from any SoCon game this season.)

The red card stat surprised me.  It would be hard to conclude the Bulldogs are a particularly rough outfit, either statistically (a middle-of-the-pack team in fouls and yellow cards) or from watching them play.

Of course, the fact we’re just talking about two cards, and thus two situations, indicates a small sample size, and possibly a fluke.  Further investigation was required.

I first viewed the videotape for the second of the two red cards, given to Shanna Couch during the Samford match, easily the team’s worst performance of the season (losing at home 7-0).  At the 63-minute mark, the Bulldog keeper came out of the goal during a Samford mini-breakaway.  Samford wound up with a shot on goal that would have gone in, except Crouch palmed it away on the goal line.

That was a problem, since Crouch wasn’t the keeper, and she thus got a straight red. Honesty compels me to admit it was deserved.  Sorry, Shanna.

The other red card was given to defender (and erstwhile diarist) Leah Hawkins during the Chattanooga match.  Hawkins had picked up a yellow card at the 60-minute mark for an overly aggressive tackle.  At the 83-minute mark, with The Citadel leading 2-0, she collided with a UTC player while going for the ball, received a second yellow, and was sent off.

When the collision happened, the UTC coach immediately began yelling for the yellow card, which wasn’t the first time he had complained about various calls or non-calls during the game.  (He was rather vocal.)  I don’t think I would have booked Hawkins if I had been the official — it was clearly neither a “professional” foul nor a dangerous play — but maybe the referee decided to throw the Mocs coach a bone.

Tangent:  in all fairness to the UTC coach, he was probably stressed out by that point with his team’s play and with an injury that occurred to one of his players in the first half.  Shortly after a rather innocuous clash with a Bulldog player, a Moc midfielder dropped to the ground, right on the sideline next to the UTC bench, and began shrieking in apparent pain.  She continued to cry out for several minutes while receiving attention from a Moc trainer.

I have no idea how she had been hurt, or the specifics of the injury, and I suspect I don’t really want to know.  She was eventually able to leave the field of play, more or less under her own power.

While that was going on the two teams retreated to the center of the pitch, with each holding an impromptu meeting, seemingly oblivious to what was happening on the sideline.  I got the impression the Moc players were talking about how nice the weather was and how lousy the bus trip back to Chattanooga was going to be, while the Bulldogs were comparing notes on an SMI and discussing how their uniforms were so much better than the football team’s duds.

My conclusion is that the two red cards do not necessarily indicate a leaguewide conspiracy.  However, I am certain that fans of the Bulldogs will continue to be vigilant in ensuring that the school’s players are fairly treated.

Red cards aside, how have the Bulldogs managed an upper-echelon league finish while not placing that highly in the conference statistics?  How does a team go 7-4 while being outscored 20-15?  The Citadel’s goals for/goals against number of -5 is equal to that of Appalachian State and Western Carolina, two teams that didn’t even make the SoCon tournament, yet the Bulldogs won enough games to host a tourney match.

Well, it helps to limit most of your poor play to just a couple of matches.  As mentioned above, The Citadel lost 7-0 to Samford.  It also lost two 3-0 games, to league regular season champion UNC-Greensboro and to Furman.

In the other eight regular-season SoCon games it played, though, The Citadel allowed only seven goals.  It won seven of those eight contests.

In six of those seven wins (and in a loss to the College of Charleston), The Citadel allowed one goal.  The Bulldogs recorded just one shutout, the aforementioned game against Chattanooga, but won five games by a 2-1 scoreline and another 3-1.

That is the type of defense that can keep a team in the game.  It’s also the kind of defense that The Citadel played last season, as Winch mentioned in that quote from the link.  In fact, last year the Bulldogs only allowed 14 goals in 11 SoCon matches. The problem was that The Citadel only scored five goals in those matches.

The Bulldogs have been able to put a bulge in the auld onion bag this year on a number of occasions, though (as I channel Tommy Smyth, and if you’re still reading this I know you’re groaning).  It is the main difference between last year and this year, and what has propelled the program to unprecedented heights.  This season the Bulldogs have scored fifteen goals in league play, which while not an overwhelming amount has been just enough.

The Citadel scored two goals in six of its conference wins, and three in the other victory.  Give up one, get two — that has been the basic formula, and it has worked.

There are just two seniors on this year’s team, Nicole Martinoli (one of five Floridians on the roster) and Dominic Snyder (one of five players hailing from outside the United States).  Martinoli stated earlier this season that:

“The program has grown tremendously, and it’s not just because of this year’s team.  It’s because of all the effort of the girls on past teams.”

She’s right, of course, and I am sure there are a lot of very proud former players hanging on every kick of this year’s team.  Some of the best kicking going on, though, is coming from the boots of some precocious freshmen.

The core of the defense-minded players is primarily made up of upperclassmen like Hawkins, Couch, Hannah Warne, and Angela Foyt, plus the goalkeeping duo of Whitney Nave and Laura Serafino, but the offensive punch has come mostly from first-year players like Mariana Garcia, Nicole Levermann, Jillian Meyer, and Vanessa Aponte.  The freshmen have combined to score 13 of The Citadel’s 15 goals in SoCon play (Martinoli, repping the old guard, has the other two) and have all but one of the assists in league games (Lexington High School alum Miranda Johnson has the other).

What do they bring to the table?  Well, in the opinion of this non-expert, collectively the freshmen have a nice combination of pace and skill.  All of them have good speed, and not just mighty mites like Garcia, Taylor Viana, and Ruth Leiva.  The 5’10” Levermann can pick ’em up and put ’em down, too, when she gets going, and when she does she’s hard to stop.

Garcia and Levermann have nine of the fifteen SoCon goals.  The opener against Davidson was fairly typical.  Garcia ran two Wildcat defenders ragged as she led them on a merry chase to the corner flag.  She started to move away from the flag and down the sideline, and then passed the ball to Johnson at the top right corner of the 18-yard box.

Johnson quickly dinked a pass to Levermann, who slipped between two defenders six yards from goal and almost casually flicked the ball past the keeper with her left foot.  She would finish the afternoon with a hat trick.

Another impressive thing about the Bulldogs is that they have accomplished all this despite losing one of their best players, junior Amy Loughran, after just ten games. Loughran had already scored five goals this season (after an eight-goal outburst last year that included game-winners against Coastal Carolina and Georgia Southern) when she broke two bones in her leg against Appalachian State.

When I wrote about the soccer team last year, one of the things that concerned me was the small roster size.  Last season, there were no freshmen on the team, which struck me as unusual, and not optimal.  (One freshman who was supposed to be on the squad last year but was injured prior to enrolling at The Citadel, goalkeeper Cassie Palmacci, is on the team this season.)

This year the Bulldogs have eighteen players on their roster, four more than last season, which perhaps makes the loss of Loughran a little more manageable, although still not easy.

One thing I worried about was how the team would finish the season.  After clinching a tourney home game with its seventh league victory, The Citadel lost its last two games, 3-0 to Furman and 1-0 at the College of Charleston.  I was afraid that the outstanding campaign would end with a bit of a whimper, which wouldn’t have been the first time that happened to a team from The Citadel having an unexpectedly great year (examples include the 1989 and 2009 basketball teams, just to name two).

That made the tournament opener (the first conference tournament game in the program’s history) more important, in my view.  Making the storyline even more interesting was the opponent, Furman, which had just beaten the Bulldogs at WLI the week before and which had never lost to The Citadel.

For a while, it looked like that streak might continue.  The two teams traded goals in regulation, with the Bulldogs missing a great chance to go up 2-0, only to see the Paladins equalize only two minutes later.  Then it went to overtime and a “golden goal” scenario, where the first team to score would immediately win the game.

The first OT was scoreless.  The two teams were to play up to ten more minutes in a second overtime; if the score remained 1-1 after that, then penalty kicks would decide things.  Nobody wants to see a match go to PKs, and fortunately for The Citadel, this one didn’t.

A Furman defender was called for handball, which I thought happened in the box (which would have given The Citadel a penalty kick to win the game).  However, a free kick was the call, just outside the box.  The Paladins set up their wall, but Aponte curled a kick around the right side of it, past the diving keeper, and into the bottom of the net for the game-winner.

I have noticed that most of the Bulldogs’ goal celebrations are a bit muted (perhaps it’s a league or NCAA rule), but this one was certainly not.  It was spontaneous and wild.  The good feelings lasted for quite a while after the game; at one point, long after the match’s end, Jaslene Thiara momentarily stopped hugging Levermann long enough to wag a “We’re Number 1!” finger to the camera, whooping it up in style.

That might be the team’s last chance to relish a big win this year, and if it is, that would be understandable.  Progressing much further in the league tournament will be a tall order.  On Friday in the SoCon semifinals, The Citadel will face Samford, which handed the Bulldogs that 7-0 shellacking at WLI referenced earlier in this post, and waiting on the other side of the bracket is UNC-Greensboro, which is currently ranked in the Top 25 and has won twelve straight games.  (The Spartans beat The Citadel 3-0 in Greensboro in the regular season.)

The odds aren’t really in the Bulldogs’ favor.  On the other hand, Samford needed penalty kicks to get past Davidson in the first round of the league tourney, and UNCG struggled before finally outlasting Wofford, 1-0, in its tourney opener.  Now all four teams left will move to a neutral site in Cullowhee (the fourth school remaining, Elon, won at the College of Charleston on Sunday).  Maybe there will be a surprise champion, preferably one with a military bent.

I hope this is the start of a long, successful run for the women’s soccer program.  I think it would be fun to tell my niece that if she were good enough, maybe someday she could go to The Citadel and play soccer on the hallowed grounds of WLI Field, following the great champions of the past.  If that happened, she would immediately become the most successful athlete in the history of her family, which admittedly would be faint praise (her eldest uncle in particular being one of the least athletic individuals to ever spend four years at the military college).

It has to be very difficult for a women’s team sport to compete and win at the Division I level at The Citadel.  As of this September there were 142 women in the corps of cadets.  Eighteen of them are playing soccer.  That’s almost 13% of the total number of female cadets.  The comparison between other schools is jarring.  Georgia Southern has over 9,000 female students; Appalachian State, almost 8,000.  Those are just a couple of schools in the Southern Conference.

Technically, though, The Citadel is also competing in Division I with schools like Ohio State, UCLA, and Texas.  Think about the enormous difference in total resources, both human and otherwise, between The Citadel and those universities when competing in NCAA athletics.  (That’s true for the men’s teams as well, of course; it’s just the difference when comparing the women’s sports is exponentially greater.)

Then you have the military component, which is, to say the least, of some consequence…

Another concern I have, which may or may not be material, is the support (of the non-financial variety) the program gets from the alumni.  I’m not talking about people being unaware of the program or simply ignoring it; that goes with the territory of being a “non-revenue” sport at a school where most graduates are not born-and-bred sports fans anyway, and if they are their interest is often exclusively devoted to football, basketball, and/or baseball.

I wonder a little, though, about how it being a women’s sport plays in Peoria (or Pelion).  I think it goes without saying that a significant percentage of alums are still uncomfortable with the idea of women attending The Citadel.  Some of them are going to be less than crazy about casting their lot with a women’s team (and soccer still has a “foreign” connotation for some, although I think that notion is beginning to disappear).

My personal opinion, which is possibly a touch cynical, is that most alumni will gladly jump on any bandwagon provided by The Citadel, whenever one becomes available. If you’ve got a winner, you’ve got a lot of friends.  That makes Bob Winch a popular fellow these days, other than with Southern Conference officials.

Good luck to the team on Friday.

Assorted observations on Team USA! USA! USA!’s big win

Just a very quick rambling post, too big for Twitter but shorter than my usual manifestos.  Anyway…

— There was a lot of discussion about the mistakenly disallowed goal by Clint Dempsey in the first half, but I think another, albeit meaningless, error was made at the end of the game by match referee Frank De Bleeckere.  After calling a foul in the box on Algeria, he was subjected to some in-your-face screaming by Hassan Yebda, who with his blond mohawk and perpetually angry facial expression is almost a caricature of your prototypical soccer villain.  Yebda was soon joined by dark-haired teammate Rafik Halliche, who also started yelling at the official.

Algerian captain Anther Yahia came over to shoo away the antagonists, but by that time De Bleeckere had turned away. When he turned around holding a yellow card, the player standing in front of  him was Yahia, who like Halliche has dark hair.  Other than that, they don’t really look alike, but I think De Bleeckere got confused and showed Yahia (who was acting as a peacemaker) a card that was intended for Halliche.  Yahia had already been booked earlier in the match, so a second yellow card for him resulted in a red, and being sent off.

Not that it mattered much whether De Bleeckere got that right or not, as Algeria was toast by then.

— Raid M’Bolhi was excellent in goal for the Algerians.  M’Bolhi also started against England, and kept a clean sheet (admittedly, a lot of keepers could have kept a clean sheet against the English in that game).  I have to wonder why he wasn’t the starter against Slovenia, a game lost by Algeria on a goalkeeping error.

Algeria could have had a very different tournament if it had not lost that opening game.

— Jozy Altidore played very well, a near-complete performance, and one maintained for the entire game.  Alexi Lalas was correct to laud Altidore’s effort during ESPN’s post-game show.  The only thing Altidore did wrong, it seemed, was miss that great opportunity for goal in the first half when the net was near-empty, and he then proceeded to kick a ball that would have been good for an extra point in the NFL.

The thing is, though…he’s a striker.  Ultimately, his job is to score goals, or set up other people for goals.  He’s got to finish when given the opportunity.  All the other stuff he did was great, but what if the U.S. doesn’t get that last-minute fast break?

Of course, he also fed the cross that ultimately led to Landon Donovan’s game-winner, so he got the job done at the end.  I’m just ready to see him break out in a big game and bag a goal or two.  The team is going to need Altidore to score if it hopes to advance further in the tournament.

— Speaking of Donovan…dude.  There’s no crying in soccer.

Besides, you’ve got work to do.  Get a good night’s sleep and then start preparing for Ghana.  We’re greedy in this country; the round of 16 is nice, but we’re thinking semifinals now.  Have you seen the bracket?  One of these countries is going to be in the semis:  USA! USA! USA!, Ghana, Uruguay, South Korea.  Can you say Cinderella?

England’s reward for finishing second in Group C is a second-round matchup with Germany, and if Wayne Rooney and company get past the Germans, then they get the winner of Argentina-Mexico.  That’s a brutal draw (although amazingly, it may wind up not being the most brutal — there is a chance of a quartile featuring Spain, Brazil, Italy, and the Netherlands).

— In the three group games, Bob Bradley has used 18 of the 20 field players on his roster.  The only two not to see action so far are defenders Clarence Goodson and Jonathan Spector.

You could have made some serious cash if you had put money down on the odds of Jonathan Bornstein, Edson Buddle, and DaMarcus Beasley playing in a must-win World Cup match (with Bornstein starting!), and the U.S. winning said match.

— From watching two of the matches Ghana has played so far, it appears to me that the Ghanians are a hard-working, athletic side that has trouble finishing.  Sound familiar?

— Ian Darke is now everyone’s favorite cheerleading-for-USA! USA! USA! English announcer.  No, seriously, he’s great.  He also gets bonus points for keeping John Harkes quiet during the critical moments just before and after Donovan’s goal.

Darke has also been doing this for a while.  I was watching the excellent ESPN documentary The Two Escobars, and recognized his voice in some of the clips, presumably working for ITV or the BBC.  ABC’s lead announcer for the 1994 World Cup?  Roger Twibell.

Yes, soccer has moved up in this country since then.  It can make another step up in the public consciousness if the U.S. can pull off another win on Saturday.

Soccer: Eleven needed for a team, more needed for a program

Note:  What follows may well be the rantings and ravings of somebody completely clueless about the women’s soccer program at The Citadel, as opposed to mostly clueless.  I apologize in advance if I’ve completely missed the boat here, which is possible.  I’m just a dude with a computer.

The Citadel’s women’s soccer team opened its 2009 season with a resounding 14-0 defeat of Alabama State at WLI Field.  I was startled to see that, even from my vantage point, which is decidedly at a distance from the soccer program.

It was just last season that The Citadel finally won its first Southern Conference match in women’s soccer, a 2-1 triumph over Georgia Southern.  Prior to that victory the Bulldogs had been 0-74-2 all-time in league play.  Now all of the sudden The Citadel had beaten a Division I opponent 14-0, and no touchdowns were involved.  This bore closer examination.

Alas, there was a catch.  It turned out that Alabama State had played the match without a full complement of players — in fact, the Lady Hornets didn’t even have eleven players.  They had eight.

It’s hard to compete, much less win, when you’re playing eleven against eight, and The Citadel also had three substitutes who played.  The Bulldogs set numerous school records, as you might expect.  To his credit, coach Bob Winch didn’t emphasize the score; instead, in his post-game interview he said rather bland things like the team had “moved the ball very well.”  I’m sure he was less than thrilled to open regular-season play against a team with just eight players.

Actually, Alabama State played two matches while in the Low Country.  With the same eight-player squad, the Lady Hornets lost by an identical 14-0 scoreline to Charleston Southern in a game shortened by a thunderstorm.  In case you were wondering, a team needs to have at least seven players on the field for a match to be viable, per NCAA rule.  Against Troy last week, Alabama State played with exactly seven players, losing 15-0 in a match called after 70 minutes.

I don’t know how you can legitimately compete as a Division I program (or call a program Division I, for that matter) in that situation.  According to its pre-season preview, the Lady Hornets were supposed to have a 13-woman squad.  Obviously things didn’t quite go according to plan.

However, it seems to me that you would be pushing your luck with even 13 players.  What about injuries, illness, etc.?  Most women’s soccer programs have a lot more than 13 players.  For example, the Southern Conference schools (not counting The Citadel) average 26.7 players per team.  Appalachian State lists 33 players on its roster; no school in the league has fewer than 23 players.  No school, that is…except The Citadel.

The Citadel has 14 players on its roster.

At first, I didn’t really think that was true.  Last season the Bulldogs had 21 listed players, which is a fairly small squad but not extraordinarily so.  Also, if there was going to be a school with a soccer roster of a lesser size, it would be The Citadel, what with its low number of female students (going back to the 2007-08 school year, the school had a total of 136 women enrolled as undergraduates).

The 14 players include no freshmen.  To be honest, when I initially saw the roster on the school’s website, I assumed that the incoming freshmen just hadn’t been listed on the school’s athletic website yet.  I decided to check by e-mailing The Citadel.  A hard-working staffer in Athletic Media Relations responded to my query almost immediately, telling me that in fact there are no freshmen on the roster.

That startled me more than the 14-0 score which had piqued my interest in this subject in the first place.

Last year The Citadel had nine freshmen on its roster.  All nine returned this year (yay!).  Given that, I would not have expected a sizable influx of freshmen for this season, particularly since last year just four seniors departed.  However, to have no entering freshmen strikes me as problematic for the program, from an immediate perspective and for the future.

Having only fourteen available players (two of whom are keepers) means that while finding playing time for everyone won’t be a problem, competing against teams able to play almost twice as many players (or more) means that the Bulldogs are probably at a disadvantage in terms of players wearing down during games.  For those more familiar with professional soccer at the club or international level than the college version of the sport, substitution is essentially unlimited (although there are certain restrictions that pertain to players re-entering the game).  It’s not like competitive professional matches, where only three substitutions are allowed (and where there is no re-entry).

I will say, though, that other teams generally aren’t playing many more players than The Citadel, so perhaps I am overselling this as a significant issue.  In The Citadel’s loss to Charleston Southern this week, CSU played 15 members of its 23-woman roster.  The Bulldogs only had one substitute during the match.  The Citadel also employed just one substitute in last season’s big win over Georgia Southern.

I also wonder a little bit about how having a small roster affects practices.  Intra-team scrimmages obviously aren’t going to be 11-on-11.  This is probably a minor point, however.

The other issue, in terms of this season, is what happens when a player is injured or becomes ill.  Nineteen regular-season matches, plus all the practices in between, is a grind.  It’s hard to imagine the Bulldogs going through the entire season unscathed from a health standpoint.  What happens when/if half the team contracts the H1N1 virus?  (Of course, that could be a problem with a 30-player roster, too.)

Tangent:  I think the H1N1 virus (swine flu) is going to be a much bigger factor in the sports world than the general public may realize (although it’s starting to draw more interest from the press).  It’s obviously been major news all over the world, but wait until late fall/early winter rolls around.  This is not your grandmother’s flu.   Last week it affected the schedules of the football team at Stillman College (which had to cancel its home opener because of the flu) and several members of Tulane’s volleyball team (which had to cancel a trip to a tournament).  There will be many, many more stories like those to come as the year rolls along (including the flu’s impact on the football teams at Mississippi and Wisconsin).

Down the road, the larger issue with having no freshmen is that there is a “hole” in the program as far as continuity is concerned.  Ideally, there would be a roughly equal number of players in each class, so that each year there is a modest amount of turnover as players graduate, to be replaced by freshmen.  That also means there would always be several seniors in the program who would be able to provide leadership and experience.

Three years from now that isn’t likely to be the case, since there won’t be any seniors from the incoming class, as there is no incoming class.  It is difficult to maintain a program’s momentum in those circumstances.

Caveat:  sometimes classes can get skewed because players stay, rather than leave.  As I mentioned earlier, all nine of last year’s freshmen returned this season.  If most or all of them are on scholarship, either full or partial (a Division I women’s soccer program is allowed up to 14 schollies), it may be that there wasn’t a lot of money available to bring in new talent.

I don’t pretend to have a great understanding of the history of women’s soccer at The Citadel, and don’t know what happened in this particular circumstance, but regardless, having a smaller roster with no freshmen is surely not the preferred method of building a program.  Bob Winch knows that, and it’s not like he didn’t try to bring in anybody (see this article on a recruit who apparently didn’t make it to campus).

Everyone associated with The Citadel knows that it is not easy to recruit male athletes who can successfully navigate all the responsibilities of being a cadet-student-athlete.  I suspect recruiting female athletes is even more difficult, perhaps exponentially so.

The coaching staff has searched far and wide for players.  There are three cadets from Ontario on the roster, which is one more than are from South Carolina.  One of those Canadians, Amy Loughran, scored a goal and had an assist when the Bulldogs beat GSU last year, so apparently going north of the border for players isn’t a bad idea at all.  The team also features players from Germany, Pennsylvania, and Nevada.

I guess the coaches will just have to cast their recruiting nets even wider.  Canada does have several other provinces…

Photo of the Day

The player is obviously wearing a throwback English soccer uniform…