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Williams vs. Messiah
Friday, December 4, 5 p.m.
The men’ soccer team left Cole
Field House Wednesday morning in three vans following head coach
Mike Russo’s car to the Albany Airport. The sky was cloudless
and the temperature was in the mid 40s, perfect weather for the
long trip to San Antonio.
At first coach Russo said that the team would head over Petersburgh Mountain on Rt. 2, “Like Hannibal with the elephants,” Russo joked. Just as the vans started to inch forward Russo announced that “democracy had prevailed” and the caravan would head out through Vermont to Albany Airport. Great coaches are known for their ability to adapt,
At the Albany Airport a cameraman from Ch. 13 filmed the team unloading from the vans, getting their tickets and boarding passes. Before heading upstairs to the security screening area Coach Russo was interviewed for the 6 and 11 PM news about the matchup on Friday vs. Messiah.
Several of the airport staff in the screening area remarked to coach Russo how well mannered his team was and wished the Ephs well.
The Albany flight crew for US Air welcomed everyone aboard the flight to Charlotte and added, “We’d especially like to welcome the Williams men’s soccer team that is headed to San Antonio for the Final Four. Good luck and bring home the trophy.”
First year defender Matt Ratacjzak explained
that the white wristband he was wearing was distributed to the team
by junior Gaston Kelly at the beginning of the season. The white
band says… “run for yourself, run for your
mates,” which is a reference to a team motto that came into
Williams men’s soccer lore in the 1995 season in honor of
midfielder Matt Stauffer. The personable and indefatigable
Stauffer was the heart and soul of the Ephs championship run.
Stauffer had been diagnosed with cancer upon the Ephs return from a
preseason trip to Ireland and missed playing in the Ephs’
first NCAA championship season. Stauffer was on the bench and out
of uniform when Williams won the 1995 NCAA title. Always a battler
Stauffer went toe to toe with cancer, but died in January of
The white wristband glows in the dark and if you knew Matt Stauffer you would know that that is a perfect rendition of the contagious and warm smile he brought to every practice and game.
The flight to Charlotte was uneventful for the most part with only scattered bouts of turbulence, some significant and then it all turned much worse.
Around the time the captain announced that the plane was beginning its descent into Charlotte things got a little hairy or a little scary depending on your like for being uncomfortable at not being in control of your well-being
With the plane now frequently jostling side to side enough to make the secured snack cart sound as though it was begging to be set free from stowage by banging on the walls and some soft gasps from the passengers. Some folks resorted to using “the little white bags in the seat pocket in front you” and one was heard to say, “I’ve flown 2 million miles and this is the worst flight I’ve been on” … comforting perhaps to the speaker, but basically not helpful.
As though the jostling and dipping were not enough the air cooling system was now dispensing warm to hot air depending on where you sat. One flight attendant even quipped, “It’s kind of hot back here.” Again this comment was to the point, but definitely not helpful.
The descent into Charlotte soon became the a candidate for the longest descent into Charlotte of all-time as the plane went lower then higher, then circled left, but basically did not seem to be making progress towards the runaway.
Eventually an exceptionally rough patch of turbulence was crossed, land was spotted through the heavy cloud cover, and the Ephs landed in a rainstorm.
It wasn’t until the plane was on the ground that the pilot announced that he was sorry about the long descent as “the landing direction had been changed at the last minute and it was a bit rough up there due to the high winds.” Kind of the airlines version of soccer’s “play on.”
The late arrival into Charlotte cut the wait in the terminal down to about 50 minutes, which was helpful. Some of the Ephs grabbed some food or made phone calls or checked email and then it was time to board the plane to San Antonio.
As the Ephs were taxiing out to the runway for departure the pilot informed all -- “We’re next to depart, but we do expect a bit of turbulence as we begin this adventure.” “This adventure” was met with some concern, but mostly jokes from the Ephs who were not unhappy to be seeing Charlotte disappear from view.
The flight from Charlotte to San Antonio had a few little bumps, but no dips and jostling ensued and the fasten seat belt sign was even turned off for a while.
Near the baggage claim the Ephs met their assigned team host Van Hammack, a San Antonio resident, who will help coordinate the team’s activities around town.
The Ephs gathered their bags and were about to head outside to their bus when a San Antonio police officer approached coach Russo and told him that the Ephs would be receiving a police escort to The Menger Hotel, as all of the other teams had.
The Ephs were pretty impressed when the bus just rolled through red lights and had traffic blocked from entrances to the highway.
The Ephs were trying to arrange for some pizzas to be delivered around 10:15 PM after arriving at The Menger Hotel.
Thursday’s schedule will find the Ephs and all of the eight teams (women’s Final Four is also here) having a walk through at The Blossom Soccer Stadium, then off to the STAR Complex for practice.
After lunch the eight teams will outreach engagement project. Later in the evening all of the teams will pose for pictures in front of the Alamo before going to the Championship Banquet. The night will conclude with each team getting a boat ride on the famous River Walk.