It's been over 300 days - 327 according to the maginificent calculator at timeanddate.com - since my last Rhode Island College women's soccer game. And my, oh my, have things changed immensely since that heartbreaking evening in Danbury, CT back on November 1, 2007.
For beginners, nine seniors have since graduated. That's nine seniors - five of which were All-Little East selections - that started on a club three minutes away from the Little East Conference Finals.
Then, preseason training opened with a gaggle of freshman, leaving Christina Tavana, Danielle Gelinas, and Kayla Fleming as the only returning upperclassmen.
Finally, one week in to preseason training, head coach Denis Chartier abruptly resigned to accept an assistant's job at Brown University on August 6th. For three weeks in August, assistant coach Jessica Knobel oversaw a very young Anchorwomen club while the school searched for a replacement. Eventually, Mike Koperda was brought in from New York and took over the head coaching reigns on August 25th.
So much for an easy transition.
The results thus far have not been great by any stretch of the imagination. The team is 1-8-0. They've been shut out six times already. They've scored only seven goals so far, three of which belong to Tavana. Their second leading scorer - sophomore Chelsea Creamer* - is hurt. With a 3-5-2 in place this season, the young backs are often overmatched and need assistance from the mids to defend. All in all, the Little East Finals seem well out of reach this season.
(*After conducting an informative post-game interview with Tavana, Creamer pitched an offer of $10.00 USD for the purchase of my white Nike US Soccer track jacket [retail price: $59.99]. "What? You want to borrow it for $10.00? Sure! Just have it dry cleaned before returning it.")
But that doesn't mean this crop of players won't succeed. Yes, they're young. They've got alot to learn before they can justify a playoff berth. But they are getting progressively better as the season rolls on. Yesterday's game against Bridgewater State College was an example of that progression.
They went down four goals before the hour, and it appeared the only motivations remaining for RIC was to stop the bleeding. Drop back and defend. Keep BSC from scoring anymore. Then, with less than ten minutes remaining, Tavana pushed a beautiful ball forward to Alicia Ladaro, who scored her first collegiate goal at the 82nd minute. Though it was still 1-4 guests, RIC wasn't about to let off the throttle. Less than a minute later, the Anchorwomen counterattacked and earned a corner. Tavana mailed it right into the far upper ninety, and just like that, RIC cut the lead in half.
Even though the comeback fell short, it was an impressive display. Tavana remarked after the game that she has to find a way to get the underclassmen fired up much, much earlier than the 82nd minute. To her credit, it was no surprise that the center mid was directly responsible for both goals.
From an outsider's point of view, it looks like it's going to be a long season. One filled with more mistakes, missed opportunities, and ultimately, more losses. There's no doubt Koperda has his work cut out for him. He's cognizant of that: he loudly cheers and shouts praise on even the smallest of details, such as double teams and marking on set pieces. He calls his charges "youngbloods" and "young guns." Indeed, youth is perhaps the most defining aspect of this year's team.
But, if Tavana and co-captain Kayla Fleming continue to guide this team to more brilliant flashes like the one seen in the final minutes yesterday, this will be a squad that will likely contend in the near future.
One of my favorite sportswriters of all-time is Joe Posnanski of the Kansas City Star. He has the distinction of not only being one hell of a writer, but has what is likely one of the most unenviable beats in sports: the Kansas City Royals, arguably one of the worst teams in baseball for the past 20 years.
I suppose one has to have a sense of humor and unbridled optimism to cover the Royals. It has to get better eventually, right? Right? So, it is with that inspiration, that I will cover this season's very young Anchorwomen. Not that they are Royals-bad. The Royals streak of futility dates back to my Sesame Street years. The ladies in maroon have a generation of decline before they approach that level of failure.
Yes, it would be better if RIC's record was the exact inverse of what it actually is. Yet, I believe this team has alot of potential to do things this year, which I think will translate well next season. By no means am I giving up on this season. I know the odds of clinching postseason prosperity aren't great. They may lose alot more before November 1st's final game. That's okay, because this team is going in the right direction - unlike those hapless Royals.