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ISSUE 117 VOL 5 PUBLISHED 10/17/2003

From the locker room: Women create strong bond on, off soccer field

By Julie Gunderson
Sports Editor

Friday, October 17, 2003

It's hard to pinpoint the exact moment when it all started to click for the women's soccer team this season. Maybe it was on one of those long road trips when the girls spent the first two weekends of the school year sharing laughs in the backseat of a 15-passenger van, piling in and out at fast food stops, bathroom stops, and pit stops, getting to know the lives of their teammates better than their corridor mates, roommates and classmates. The Oles slinked off the soccer field those first two games away from St. Olaf with two strikes against having been outscored by their opponents 8 to 3, but despite the on-field results the girls just might have gained something that's proven to be more valuable. Something that so many teams search in vain to find – a bond.

"We came together, both as a soccer team and a close-knit group of friends," Ashley Mark '05 said.

Chemistry is what every team will tell you they need, but it is also the hardest things to get. You can have talent and scorers, and difference makers and inspirational leaders and defensive stoppers and motivators and winners and hard workers, but very rarely do you get the whole package. Very rarely can you find a team that blends and gels and knows each others intricate movements before they even make them, and then can step outside of those white lines and finish each others sentences, and call each other up on the phone just to talk, and know by the expression on each others faces without a word spoken among them, who’s having a good day and who’s not, who’s stressed over a test, who just got an A on theirs.

It may sound trivial, all this bonding and old girl club stuff, but the fact is it works. Say you’re a defensive back about ready to boot a pass up the sideline to your streaking forward. It's good to know that your forward likes the ball on the outside toward their left foot, but it's even better to know that her recent breakup with a long time boyfriend is making life a little rough right now. Why? Because when you send that perfect arching pass that bends to the outside of her left foot like it was delivered there on a string, you're sending a message. Yep one pass and without a word you’re saying, hey I know that everything else might seem like crap right now, but here's a gift. It comes in handy to know your teammates.

"The unique thing about our team is that we enjoy playing soccer together and hanging out afterwards," Meghan Ryerse '06 said. "We all truly respect one another on and off the field."

It was precisely this type of team camaraderie that the girls called upon when they found themselves huddled together on the sideline looking into each others eyes filled with exhaustion, frustration, and most of all hunger. The team had jumped out to a two goal lead against Simpson on Oct. 5, only to see their lead slip a way forcing regulation to end in a 4-4 tie. Having just finished a 110-minute stalemate against St. Ben's the day before, the girls limped over to the sidelines on shaky legs no one eager for the start of yet another overtime period. Quitting time? To exhausted? Just throw in the towel?

The Oles charged onto the field scoring in the first minute of overtime to capture what only a few minutes before had seemed like an improbable 5-4 win. It comes in handy to know your teammates, especially when the season hits that pivital turning point and you know that the girls you’ve been playing with and hanging with for the past two months are going to be there.

It was the difference maker when the girls battled the elements last weekend against Macalester, falling behind 2-0 in the first half and then using every ounce of energy they had to claw their way back into the game in the second half as a driving rain beat down on them.

They lost 1-2 but somehow the girls were able to walk off the field with the wind whistling at their backs instead of howling in their faces. They won’t call it a clichèd moral victory. But playing the game without defensive back Maiken Overton ‘05 who sat out with a sprained ankle, it was the performance of her replacement Erica Gruner ‘07 that inspired her teammates.

“Erica stepped up and filled in for Maiken and did an awesome job playing a position that she doesn't normally play,” Kara Olson ‘06 said.

From defeat comes character and most importantly no excuses.

"We had a few defensive breakdowns," goalkeeper Olson said. "Mac is too good a team and they knew how to capitalize from our errors."

It's a trademark of a good team to know how to win but it takes a better team to know how to lose.

Perhaps the Ole women aren’t ready to stamp themselves the top of the MIAC rankings just yet, but perhaps they don’t have far to go either. Their’s no doubt that the team will stick it out together to find out.

"It's remarkable to think we had never played together as a group just over a month and a half ago," Chelsea Gordon '06 said.

So now, after a month and a half of road trips, dinners out, practices up that wall, weekends hanging out, locker room talks, and game-time gut checks, the Oles are left sitting in seventh place in the MIAC with a 3-2-1 record and needing a fourth place finish to end up in the postseason. They have four games remaining to try and make it.

"If we play the way we are capable of playing we should find success against these teams," Mark said. "We have a great chance, if we take care of our business and win our remaining games."

We’ll just have to wait and find out if knowing your teammates will pay off for this year’s Oles.

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