Monthly Archives: July 2012

Olympics – Matchday 3: What We Learned – United States 1:0 North Korea

For those that don’t know – and I suspect most of you here may not – I spend most of the winter with my alter-ego writing about men’s college basketball for the Mid-majority. When creator and all-around fantastic writer Kyle Whelliston had two “mid majors” reach the Final Four (Butler and VCU) in 2011, he had to deal with all the hype surrounding the Final Four: stories about stories, angles upon angles upon subangles, and just minutia that has nothing to do with basketball, “sportz” as he would call it.

Finally, when semifinal Saturday was actually upon us, Kyle wrote his preview headline as follows: “There’s a Basketball Game Today at 6:09 PM ET”.

Well, with Hope Solo wittingly or unwittingly (or a little of both) dominating the headlines once again in the Olympic soccer world, there really was a soccer game today at 12:15 PM ET.

Alas, it wasn’t much of a soccer game. As expected, the United States dominated  from start to finish against outclassed North Korea. It may have been somewhat surprising that the U.S. didn’t put up a bigger total than 1-0, but they missed some good chances and didn’t quite have the intensity they did against France. Why would they, really? They did the job they had to do, no one got hurt, got the full nine points, and have a fantastic draw all the way to the finals.

Solo barely had to do anything, therefore Brandi Chastain didn’t have to talk about her (although it seemed as though Arlo White was trying a bit too hard to be complimentary of Hope). There were no punches, no hideous refereeing calls, really a yawnfest, to be honest.

But if there was ever a good time for a snoozer, the last group game of a tournament in which you’ve already progressed is certainly it.

And it doesn’t mean we can’t learn a few things. Like these:

Continue reading

AWK’s 2012 NCAA Soccer Preview – Georgia – Stuck In The Middle

Alexa Newfield

Georgia Junior Alexa Newfield Will Look To Provide The Fireworks in 2012

Preview Index

General | Conference Realignment Breakdown | Final 2012 Recruiting Class Rankings | Early 2013/2014 Recruiting Class Rankings | Coaching Changes

Big Sky | DI Independents | Great West | SWAC

ACC – Clemson | NC State
Big XII – Iowa State | Kansas | Oklahoma | TCU | Texas | Texas Tech
Big East – Cincinnati | DePaul | Georgetown | Notre Dame | Pittsburgh | Providence | Rutgers | Seton Hall | South Florida | St. John’s (NY) | Syracuse | UConn | Villanova
Big Ten – Indiana | Iowa | Michigan | Michigan State | Minnesota | Nebraska | Northwestern | Purdue | Wisconsin
Mid-Majors – Central Michigan | Denver | Florida Gulf Coast | Harvard | Illinois State | La Salle | New Mexico | Rice | Richmond | Samford | Stephen F. Austin | Toledo | UMass | Utah State | Western Michigan | William & Mary
Pac-12 – Arizona | Arizona State | Cal | Colorado | Oregon | Oregon State | USC | Utah | Washington | Washington State
SEC – Alabama | Arkansas | LSU | Mississippi State | Missouri | Ole Miss | South Carolina | Tennessee | Vanderbilt
WCC – BYU | Gonzaga | Loyola Marymount | Portland | San Diego | San Francisco | St. Mary’s (CA)

After a first season of new management that had been more false start than fresh start, normal service was resumed in Athens, as Georgia qualified for their fourth NCAA Tournament in five seasons and even won a match in the competition to boot. Head coach Steve Holeman had much to make up for after a season that had seen the club slip off the bubble on Selection Monday and miss out on the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006. Though UGA did get back on song last year, the Bulldogs are still looking for their first major trophy, desperately trying to buck the tag of being one of the nation’s biggest programs without a piece of silverware to their name.

While results have improved markedly over the past half-decade, Georgia still largely plays second fiddle to the fierce rivals Florida, along with upstarts South Carolina and LSU. Georgia started out as a respectable side in the mid-nineties that managed to make it to the Sweet Sixteen in 1998 but never really threatened for league titles or other silverware in the five year reign of Bill Barker. After some success at Minnesota, Sue Patberg journeyed down to UGA to try and get the Bulldogs over the hump. But consistency for UGA in the Patberg era was never a strong suit and the Bulldogs bounced up and down the SEC table with regularity.
Patberg led Georgia to two appearance in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, but she also saw the team to two losing seasons, including a year where the program bottomed out at 4-9-5 in 2004, leading to yet another change at the top of ticket for the Bulldogs.

The next five years were marked by a rise towards the upper reaches of the SEC but also by some crushing failures just as the program seemed to be set to take the next step towards the elite of the league. 2007 saw UGA come tantalizingly close to a shock league title, as the program beat Florida for the first time in program history and finished just behind the Gators in the final league table. Georgia would get to the SEC Tournament final as well but were spanked by a Florida team desperate for revenge. The Bulldogs would find little solace in the NCAA Tournament either, being upset by opportunistic Duke in the second round.

2008 saw Georgia sink back to .500 after playing a suicidal non-conference schedule and needing a rally through the SEC Tournament to make it back to the Big Dance. UGA ended up playing well towards the end of the season and made it to the SEC Tournament final for the second year running but were dealt a stunning defeat at the hands of a Tennessee team they had beaten easily a little more than a week earlier. The Bulldogs would be humbled further in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, dropping a match to CAA side James Madison.

At this point, the program seemed to sink into decline. 2009 may have seen UGA make it back to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, but they were also crushed by LSU in Baton Rouge, 6-0, and also dealt damaging losses by sides like Ole Miss and Auburn. With a veteran side, mid-table and elimination at the quarterfinal stage in the SEC Tournament was very much against expectations going into the season.

That the head coaching job came open in the spring may have been a bit of a shock at the time, but many thought some new blood in the hot seat could do the program some good. That that new face was Ole Miss boss Holeman was certainly not expected, as most believed a promotion from within was in the cards. Holeman certainly knew the territory having been a long-time coach in the SEC with Auburn and Ole Miss and had overachieved with the Rebels at times. But considering the lack of trophies he had brought to Oxford, it was a bit of an eyebrow raising appointment, especially for a program aspiring for a rise into the nation’s elite.

With a strong recruiting class being inherited for his first season in charge, some tipped Holeman’s side to be a real wild card in the SEC despite having to account for some serious losses from the previous season’s side. Despite having their moments at times in non-conference play, the club struggled to put together significant wins and were frighteningly inefficient in front of goal despite not losing any of their first seven in the league. A long line of draws left Georgia precariously placed heading into the stretch run, and losing three of their final four in the regular season left much work needing to be done in the SEC Tournament. In the end, one win in the competition didn’t cut it, and Georgia found itself on the outside looking in, with too many opportunities to add to their profile having been spurned.

The lingering effects of that disappointment seemed to hang around the program heading into 2011, and the first homestand of the season was marked by back-to-back defeats to Texas and Villanova, results that would loom large later on as fortunes for both soured. But Georgia used a hard fought 2-1 win on the road at Minnesota to kick their season into gear, and the Bulldogs won their next five to build some momentum heading into the league. 2-2-0 in the first two weekends of the SEC season made for a tepid start, but the club still had managed to beat eventual league champs South Carolina, proving to be the Gamecocks’ bogey club once again.
Continue reading

AWK’s 2012 NCAA Soccer Preview – Notre Dame – Young & Dangerous, But Still Young

Mandy Laddish

Mandy Laddish Will Try To Lead Notre Dame Past The Pack in 2012

Preview Index

General | Conference Realignment Breakdown | Final 2012 Recruiting Class Rankings | Early 2013/2014 Recruiting Class Rankings | Coaching Changes

Big Sky | DI Independents | Great West | SWAC

ACC – Clemson | NC State
Big XII – Iowa State | Kansas | Oklahoma | TCU | Texas | Texas Tech
Big East – Cincinnati | DePaul | Georgetown | Pittsburgh | Providence | Rutgers | Seton Hall | South Florida | St. John’s (NY) | Syracuse | UConn | Villanova
Big Ten – Indiana | Iowa | Michigan | Michigan State | Minnesota | Nebraska | Northwestern | Purdue | Wisconsin
Mid-Majors – Central Michigan | Denver | Florida Gulf Coast | Harvard | Illinois State | La Salle | New Mexico | Rice | Richmond | Samford | Stephen F. Austin | Toledo | UMass | Utah State | Western Michigan | William & Mary
Pac-12 – Arizona | Arizona State | Cal | Colorado | Oregon | Oregon State | USC | Utah | Washington | Washington State
SEC – Alabama | Arkansas | LSU | Mississippi State | Missouri | Ole Miss | South Carolina | Tennessee | Vanderbilt
WCC – BYU | Gonzaga | Loyola Marymount | Portland | San Diego | San Francisco | St. Mary’s (CA)

Scarcely has a defending national champion looked as fragile and average as Notre Dame did in the course of the 2011 season. Naturally, it was never supposed to be that way, as the Irish came into the new campaign looking every bit a threat to defend their crown despite some losses in personnel whose weight would only be fully understood at the end of a hard and disappointing season by Notre Dame’s lofty standards.

It was jarring to see Randy Waldrum’s side look so mortal after the lasting impressions the club had left during their run to the title in the 2010 NCAA Tournament. The Irish had devastated five foes up until the title game against Stanford, where only a sensational goalkeeping performance kept them from making it six sensational victories. The 1-0 win to Notre Dame flattered their opponents at the end of the day, and there was little doubt as to who stood superior at full-time.

A challenge for back-to-back titles had been expected, as Waldrum has generally made all the right moves keeping Notre Dame up as one of the teams at the very top of the college soccer pyramid. It actually took a while for the Irish to climb the proverbial college soccer ladder, but they would star in 1994, reaching the national title game in just their second Big Dance appearance. That’d result in a real lesson being doled out by their opponents, North Carolina, who beat the Irish, 5-0. There’d be no mistake the next season though as Chris Petrucelli led the Irish to the national title in a three overtime thriller against Portland.

Though Notre Dame would rule over the Big East with an iron fist for the next three seasons, they’d see diminishing results in the NCAA Tournament, culminating with a loss in the Elite Eight in 1998. The bombshell came after the 1998 season when Petrucelli followed the money down to Austin, taking the Texas job to try and breathe life into another slumbering giant.

His replacement was Waldrum, a coach who had had modest success at Tulsa before three excellent seasons at Baylor. While Notre Dame still did quite well in the Big East under their new boss, success in the NCAA Tournament still eluded them. The Irish started to really stutter in the Big Dance at the beginning of the new millennium. There were upset losses in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2001 and 2003 to Cincinnati and Michigan respectively, likely leaving some to wonder if the Irish would ever get back to the top of the mountain.

As doubts began to creep in, Notre Dame and Waldrum answered the critics, rolling to the 2004 national title with victory over UCLA after penalties in the title game. The title sealed Waldrum and Notre Dame’s place at the peak of the college soccer landscape and had fans hungry for more. Waldrum would be so close to his second title and the program’s third over the next five seasons. From 2006-2009, the Irish logged a couple of runner-up finishes along with two semi-final defeats.

The Irish came good in 2010 though, despite adversity at many turns, including missing key midfielder Courtney Barg for much of the year and an infamous Big East Tournament quarterfinal defeat at home to UConn, that broke many long standing streaks but also set the stage for the club to come roaring back over the next month.

2011 would begin with a solid win over a Wisconsin team thought to be Big Ten contenders, but all eyes were on Chapel Hill the following week for the Irish’s match against a North Carolina side that they had brutalized on the same pitch in the NCAA Tournament a season ago. Favorites on paper, Notre Dame would rue not making the most of their chances and fell in extra time, 2-1. A warning sign of things to come would arrive a few days later as the Irish limped to an ineffectual 3-1 loss to a hungry Duke side.
Continue reading

Being Hope Solo: Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop

Some people think I’m bonkers/

But I think I’m just free/

Man, I’m livin’ my life/

Nothing’ crazy about me

 

Who would have thought Dizzee Rascal would have the inside line on the Hope Solo/Brandi Chastain flap? That verse was featured in a performance that provided one of the many jolts in Danny Boyle’s electrifying Opening Ceremony last Friday.

Another stirring moment – one that, again, occurred off the field of play – would soon follow.

Continue reading

AWK’s 2012 NCAA Soccer Preview – Tennessee – Lady Vols Hope To Make Big Noise in Pensky’s First Season on Rocky Top

Caroline Brown

Caroline Brown Will Be Aiming For Another Big Season in Front of Goal

Preview Index

General | Conference Realignment Breakdown | Final 2012 Recruiting Class Rankings | Early 2013/2014 Recruiting Class Rankings | Coaching Changes

Big Sky | DI Independents | Great West | SWAC

ACC – Clemson | NC State
Big XII – Iowa State | Kansas | Oklahoma | TCU | Texas | Texas Tech
Big East – Cincinnati | DePaul | Georgetown | Pittsburgh | Providence | Rutgers | Seton Hall | South Florida | St. John’s (NY) | Syracuse | UConn | Villanova
Big Ten – Indiana | Iowa | Michigan | Michigan State | Minnesota | Nebraska | Northwestern | Purdue | Wisconsin
Mid-Majors – Central Michigan | Denver | Florida Gulf Coast | Harvard | Illinois State | La Salle | New Mexico | Rice | Richmond | Samford | Stephen F. Austin | Toledo | UMass | Utah State | Western Michigan | William & Mary
Pac-12 – Arizona | Arizona State | Cal | Colorado | Oregon | Oregon State | USC | Utah | Washington | Washington State
SEC – Alabama | Arkansas | LSU | Mississippi State | Missouri | Ole Miss | South Carolina | Vanderbilt
WCC – BYU | Gonzaga | Loyola Marymount | Portland | San Diego | San Francisco | St. Mary’s (CA)

The reign of Angela Kelly at the head of the Tennessee Lady Vols soccer program reached its terminus shortly after the 2011 season. Just not in the manner many might have expected, with Kelly trading up and landing in Austin to try and revitalize Texas’ fortunes. The long-time boss of the program had endured an up and down season in her final season in charge in Knoxville but one that was likely a lot more rewarding than some of the recent campaigns for the Big Orange.

The team entered 2011 coming off a season where they had vaulted their way up to third in the standings a year after having to fight just to make the SEC Tournament. But the common thread tying 2010 and 2009 together in Knoxville had been the club’s absence from the NCAA Tournament. 2009 had been a case of poor league form, while 2010 had been almost the opposite, with a dismal non-conference campaign doing the damage. The mini-drought from the NCAA Tournament marked a swift fall from grace for what was once once one of the South’s premier programs.

After ex-Tar Heel Kelly took charge before the 2000 season, the Lady Vols spent much of the year pillaging the SEC, taking home three straight league titles and three SEC Tournament titles from 2002-2005. Tennessee’s yearly battle for dominance in the league with Florida (and occasionally Auburn) was fascinating stuff, and the Vols proved they could hang with most teams on the national level as well, making five Sweet Sixteens in six years from 2002-2007. They weren’t quite on the level of the elite programs, but Tennessee was still a quality Top 20 team year in and year out.

But something happened to Tennessee at the end of the 2007 season that cut a deep wound into the psyche of the program. With a chance to win the SEC title with a win in Athens against Georgia, the Lady Vols were humiliated in a 3-0 defeat that could have been worse than the scoreline indicated. UT was then dumped out in swift fashion in the SEC Tournament. The Lady Vols did recover to make the Sweet Sixteen that season, but it’s never really been the same in the three years since the team’s title capitulation. 2008 was a veritable horror show, and Tennessee was fortunate to make a miracle run through the SEC Tournament to win the league’s auto bid, keeping their NCAA Tournament streak alive.

There would be no such miracles in 2009 as Tennessee struggled to eighth in the league, achieved their lowest ever win total under Kelly, and finished under .500 for the second straight season. While it was hard to argue with the trophy haul Kelly had brought into Knoxville since taking over as coach, there still had to be some uneasiness going into 2010 at the general direction the program was headed. Non-conference play was uninspiring, with the club’s defense looking like a sieve most of the time. The club did recover to bag third in the league but were upset in the opening round of the SEC Tournament by LSU and weren’t close to an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

The team’s recent postseason failures were no doubt beginning to ring hollow in Knoxville as the 2011 season started. It became quickly apparent that the club’s non-conference form wouldn’t be a problem. Two wins in Big XII country against Kansas and Oklahoma were followed by a battling defeat to a powerful UCLA squad. Tennessee would rebound by winning their final five games before SEC play, including a 1-0 win over Texas A&M that surely marked the club’s biggest win in a long while.
Continue reading

AWK’s 2012 NCAA Soccer Preview – San Diego – Heavy Losses Make WCC Title Repeat An Uphill Climb

Mariah Butera

Sophomore Mariah Butera is One of The Few Sure Things for San Diego in 2012

Preview Index

General | Conference Realignment Breakdown | Final 2012 Recruiting Class Rankings | Early 2013/2014 Recruiting Class Rankings | Coaching Changes

Big Sky | DI Independents | Great West | SWAC

ACC – Clemson | NC State
Big XII – Iowa State | Kansas | Oklahoma | TCU | Texas | Texas Tech
Big East – Cincinnati | DePaul | Georgetown | Pittsburgh | Providence | Rutgers | Seton Hall | South Florida | St. John’s (NY) | Syracuse | UConn | Villanova
Big Ten – Indiana | Iowa | Michigan | Michigan State | Minnesota | Nebraska | Northwestern | Purdue | Wisconsin
Mid-Majors – Central Michigan | Denver | Florida Gulf Coast | Harvard | Illinois State | La Salle | New Mexico | Rice | Richmond | Samford | Stephen F. Austin | Toledo | UMass | Utah State | Western Michigan | William & Mary
Pac-12 – Arizona | Arizona State | Cal | Colorado | Oregon | Oregon State | USC | Utah | Washington | Washington State
SEC – Alabama | Arkansas | LSU | Mississippi State | Missouri | Ole Miss | South Carolina | Vanderbilt
WCC – BYU | Gonzaga | Loyola Marymount | Portland | San Francisco | St. Mary’s (CA)

San Diego are playing second fiddle to nobody in the WCC any more after a 2011 season that saw the club win a share of their first league title, the first major trophy in club history, while also advancing to the Sweet Sixteen. The Toreros have never had it easy in the WCC, often being stuck in the lengthy shadow of both Portland and Santa Clara as the giants of the conference try to dominate the headlines. The Toreros haven’t even gotten top billing in their own city at times, with deeply despised city rivals San Diego State rising swiftly into the national consciousness in 2009. But though they may be afterthoughts in the minds of some, wise heads know that the Toreros have quietly turned into a side capable of making life tough for any team in the country.

As of now, San Diego has made themselves into a side who can now reasonably expect to contend for an NCAA Tournament spot every year. Current Wake Forest head coach Tony da Luz set things into motion in his five seasons in charge, culminating in the team’s first NCAA Tournament appearance and a big win over Texas A&M in the first round in 1996. da Luz’s successor, John Cossaboon kept the success going with four NCAA Tournament appearances in six seasons before handing off to current head coach Ada Greenwood. It’s been Greenwood who’s taken the program forward in recent years, with six NCAA Tournament appearances in eight seasons entering into 2011. Though they’ve been consistent competitors in the Big Dance, the Toreros entered the new season having found it hard to reach the next level.

Entering into to 2011, San Diego had qualified for four straight NCAA Tournaments but had also failed to break Portland’s stranglehold on the league, finishing as runners up three times and third once. San Diego also entered the new season having only advanced past the first round of the NCAA Tournament once in four trips and had also failed to get past the first weekend of play. San Diego entered the new season on the back of a campaign that had started strong, petered out somewhat in the middle, and finished reasonably well. But it had been another case of the blues in the NCAA Tournament, with the team’s third straight first round elimination, this one coming at the hands of Wake Forest and former boss da Luz.

Hoping to finally get over that hump and reach the next level, San Diego started out well in 2011, winning their first three and then splitting a challenging run of four matches, topping Alabama and Texas while falling to close defeats to Kansas and UCF. But despite that strong start, the club would fall into a tailspin, losing five in a row and seeing their NCAA Tournament lives flash before their very eyes. Forget aiming for a league title, San Diego were just aiming to finish at .500!
Continue reading

Olympics – Matchday 2: What We Learned – France 5:0 North Korea

Just as I talked about the “small margins” being the difference between winning and losing at a tournament like this, there are also “small moments” that decide games and allow teams to gain momentum. France looked slow, lethargic, plodding, just about any other synonym you could use in the first half, but just before they were about to go to the locker room to try to figure out what the hell was wrong, they get a corner kick, Laura Georges finds herself unmarked two yards from goal, France is relieved, and go on to destroy North Korea. But even with a big scoreline, I still have some questions.

Continue reading

Olympics – Matchday 2: What We Learned – Great Britain 3:0 Cameroon

One of the toughest things when trying to project what’s going to happen in a tournament as it progresses is how much a single performance matters in the context of the entirety of it. Great Britain was awesome against Cameroon, arguably the best game I’ve seen anyone play at the Olympics to date. But was it because Britain was that good or was Cameroon – even though they seemed to be playing hard – that poor? And even if it was Britain, can they replicate it in the next few outings? I guess we’ll have to wait and see, but I was encouraged.

Continue reading

Olympics – Matchday 2: What We Learned – Canada 3:0 South Africa

Canada, with plenty on the line after last year’s World Cup failures, got an early goal from Melissa Tancredi, and was able to breathe easy for a while, but South Africa made things difficult for a long time, including late in the first half allowed Banyana Banyana to hit the crossbar. As South Africa tired, Christine Sinclair brought order to the proceedings and eventually Canada had a relatively comfortable 3-0 win. Canada still has questions, but the mission for the day was to put themselves in position to advance, and unless they get blown out by Sweden, they should live to see the quarterfinals. Mission accomplished.

Continue reading

Olympics – Matchday 2: What We Learned – New Zealand 0:1 Brazil

Again, New Zealand huffed and puffed, but again they couldn’t knock the door down to get a result against a world power at a major competition. It was pretty cruel on poor New Zealand, too, who marginalized Marta and frustrated Brazil, only to give up a goal five minutes from the end that was really unlucky and unnecessary from a New Zealand perspective. On the plus side, a win – particularly a lopsided one – over Cameroon should still see them get through to the quarterfinals, and at that point, who knows?

Continue reading