December 3, 2008
GREENSBORO, NC -- Flying high at 36,000 feet, it’s hard to retain one's sense of normalcy.
But for the Williams College women’s soccer team, it’s what they were doing Wednesday night – and really, for the past 10 days, ever since a 2-0 victory over Ithaca in a NCAA Tournament sectional final put the Ephs on a path to the Div. III final four.
“It’s been anything but normal,” senior captain Caitlin Colesanti said. “But yet we’ve been able to maintain a sense of normalcy by keeping the same practice schedule and taking it day by day, practice by practice.”
The Ephs touched down in Greensboro Wednesday night after a day of classes, a bus ride to Albany, N.Y. and a quick one and a half hour plane ride. Colesanti passed the time with a crossword puzzle, while Ephs head coach Michelyne Pinard caught a few moments of calm by reading a book.
After a few games of fun on the bus ride to the hotel –
“guess the roommate” being the prohibitive favorite --
and a brief team meeting, the Ephs went back to hitting the books,
or taking a few moments to relax.
Williams (19-0-1), ranked No. 1 in the country, faces Wheaton (Ill.) – the defending national champions – in one national semifinal Friday at 5 p.m. at Macpherson Stadium at Bryan Park.
Playing soccer in December is not normal, nor really is playing on a national stage. Not for these Ephs. So Pinard has tried to make it seem as normal as possible for her team.
“I like to think of our team as a team that is really rather simple,” she said. “We show up, we compete, we enjoy it -- and we go home. Following the Ithaca game we were physically and emotionally exhausted, so the time off has been a blessing. It allowed is to rejuvenate ourselves individually in every facet of our lives. We came back Sunday in a really good place.”
Thursday, the Ephs will take to the practice field for the first time at the Bryan Park Soccer Complex (11 a.m.). At 2:30 p.m., a group of four Ephs will participate in a community service event at a local elementary school, and at 6:30, the NCAA hosts a banquet with all eight teams – the men’s final four is here as well – attending.
Asked what she told her her team prior to leaving for the final four, Pinard has another simple answer: nothing. “We put it on our schedule like we usually do and we’ve tried to treat it like any other game,” she said. “Partly because we want them to maintain a sense of normalcy and partly because this team has had a clear mission from the start of the season, and nothing had to be said.”
Williams may be the team with the least national pedigree here – Wheaton has won three of the past four national titles, Messiah, which faces William Smith in the other national semifinal, has the other in that span and the Herons have 19 NCAA Tournament appearances and one national title to their credit.
But as loose as the Ephs are, they are equal parts motivated and focused.
“Everyone is excited, it’s almost surreal,” senior Gabby Woodson said. “But I think if we play like we’re capable of playing and have been playing, we’ll be fine.”
Two characteristics that set this Ephs team apart from others – and there isn’t too much difference in the last two teams as the Ephs are 36-1-1 over their last 38 games – is its chemistry combined with its competitive nature.
On Tuesday, the Ephs held their final practice at their “second home,” Cole Field. Amidst the hard-driving, competitive training, there was plenty of smiling and laughing going on.
“They will literally compete in anything,” Pinard said. “A game of tag, a crossword puzzle, you name it. They want to win. We were in a drill called “four goal” and they were beating each other up out there, but they were also smiling and laughing in appropriate ways. The fact that they can compete against each other like that and then walk off the field and let it all go … we’re a really healthy team that way.”
Another motivating factor for the Ephs has been losing their last game on Cole Field in the previous three years, be it in the round of 16 of the NCAA Tournament, or the first round on the conference championship.
“I think we learned you can’t take anything for granted,” Colesanti said. “Any game, any practice, you have after the regular season is a gift and you need to treat it as such.”