It was the kind of afternoon that was made for daydreaming, taking a nap, or brewing some hot chocolate. Gray, damp and cold, with the temperature wavering between 50-52 degrees. It was your run of the mill dreary New England day. In other words, it was a perfect day for football.
So after punching out at the work release assignment at 4:28pm ET, I tarried over the Washington Bridge to the RIC Soccer Field to catch the second half of the Westfield State College.*
(*The match started at 4:00pm ET, which ensured that I'd miss the first half. I suppose I could have used a "get out of work early" pass, but I've already got that planned for next week [October 29, 2008 at 4:00pm to be exact]. You don't have to say it: I already know it's pathetic.)
By the time I arrived, it was already 2-0 Owls. I was told that that after these two sinister goals in the first ten minutes - a tough way to begin any match - the field started to tilt toward the WSC zone. And at 55th minute, the Anchorwomen finally carved the lead in half, and appeared primed to seize the equalizer shortly thereafter. Although the the air was cool and crisp, the RIC attack warmed the crowd better than any espresso or coffee could by threatening the Westfield goal with numerous chances. It felt that another RIC goal was in the making.
Yet, despite all the fight and tenacity of the attack, the Owls quickly assembled a counterattack and claimed another goaljust a hair before the 70th minute. A sharp breeze suddenly whooshed through the cold metal bleachers. With the return engagement of the two-goal deficit, the Anchorwomen scratched, clawed and chewed into the Westfield zone. But a series of missed passes and unlucky sequences ultimately spelled the end of any comeback opportunities.
The loss gave the Anchorwomen an unenviable 1-14-1 record on the season, and have already achieved a dubious record by recording the most losses in a season for a RIC women's soccer team (the previous record was 11, during the program's first season in 1997). At this time last year, they were 8-7-1, and on their way to the Little East semis. What a difference a year can make.
Not conversely, what a difference a year can make. Exhibit A: The Tampa Bay Rays. In 2007, they were 66-96, which by the way, was the THE WORST record in Major League Baseball. They were horrible. My friends and I used to ridicule them, their fans (or lack thereof) and their domed stadium. They were so bad that they should have been relegated to AAA, and some team like the Portland Beavers or something should have earned promotion.
But the Rays had something going for them. They had budding talent on the diamond. Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, Scott Kazmir and Dioneer Navarro were already on board. Evan Longoria, David Price and B.J. Upton were biding their time in the minors. Matt Garza was on another team for crying out loud. So it was just a matter of molding the team around these young bloods, and having them buy into Joe Maddon's system on managing. Less than 48 hours ago, a team with the worst record in baseball last year beat the best team in baseball last year. Tomorrow night, they will play in Game 1 of the World Series. Incredibly, they are favored to win a championship that looked quite unattainable only a season ago. And I am at a loss to explain how insane that idea is.
I've seen these young Anchorwomen struggle. I've seen them look really bad. They've been beaten to a pulp by some great schools. But I can't help but think that better days are well within their grasps. Not just because of their record. After all, they certainly can't do much worse, record-wise.
It's because there have been moments where, if the stars were aligned or if the leaves fell just so, maybe an extra goal falls through, or a critical save is made that wasn't previously, the promise of better days and better games becomes that much clearer. It's clear that RIC Soccer Field has often become the intersection of unluckiness and inexperience.
However, if the Rays can pull themselves out of similar circumstances and make a run for a championship in less than 365 days, then there is no doubt in my mind the Anchorwomen are equally capable of achieving the same. It may take more than a year. It may take two or three autumns for the Anchorwomen to return to the upper echelon on the Little East.
Heck, maybe they just need blue mohawks.* Maybe they need to drop the "Anchor" and just go by "Women."** In any event, the flashes of promise are gradually extending themselves as the season wears on. With only three matches remaining, Mike Koperda's squad is in danger of recording the worst overall single-season record in the program's 14-year history. To say that pride is on the line during the last few games would be an understatement.
(*I hope not.)
(**Everyone talks about how the Rays found success once they dropped the "Devil" from "Devil Rays", their previous moniker. I do not approve of the same for the Anchorwomen. C'mon. Rhode Island College...Women? I don't think so.)
But it's my hope that this team isn't judged on its record alone. This club is comprised of a great group of young ladies who can play the game extremely well. Come out to RIC Soccer Field and see for yourself. Or if you're lazy, check out a broadcast of any one (or all) of their home matches at the RIC Athletics site. (It takes a little bit of navigation, but if you love soccer, have a spare fifteen minutes, and Windows Media Player, you won't be disappointed.)
I luckily found myself in the company of Pam and Kerry Donahue for today's match once again. We talked about how this team, despite its hard luck season, has an increasing fan club in the stands. And let me tell you, these players appreciate every single one of their fans.
As a former student-athlete, I can tell you how much a crowd can boost your spirits, especially when playing on a losing club.* When the scoreboard isn't on your side, the cheers and encouragment of the crowd really inspires the vast majority of ego-less athletes.
(*During a magical 6th grade basketball season, my team proceeded to go 0-12. Yes, that's a zero. No wins. We were so bad our principal threatened to disband us after the first nine losses. The rest of the league would conduct a player allocation-type draft. But the team vehemently objected to this proposal, and in protest, promptly dropped our remaining three games thereafter. We were bad, but it was easily the most fun I ever had playing any sport because the crowd always cheered us, the season-long underdogs us to get that first victory.)