November 13, 2011

A Super Saturday to like and dislike

By Christan Shirk

I’m passionate about D-III soccer and I love this time of year.  I liked following along with all 24 men’s and 30 women’s games Saturday, but I disliked not having a Messiah men’s game to go to (they had a first round bye and play Sunday).  But that wasn’t all that I liked and disliked yesterday. 

I like the drama of sporting events.  I like last-minute goals.  I like upsets (if it’s not my team). I like to see underdogs do well and even win (except when they are playing my team or the teams I picked in my office pool). And Saturday had its share of unexpected results.  PSU-Behrend beating ranked Hobart. Hope defeating ranked Dominican. Randolph upsetting No. 2 Christopher Newport.  Wow!

Actually I’m torn on whether to like or dislike that last one. I had Christopher Newport as my No. 1 team throughout the season, not Messiah as's panel of voters did, and while neither I nor the voters were wrong in our rankings simply on the basis of one isolated result, we all hope the results validate our picks and opinions. But in general I and most of us like to have some upsets and some surprises along the way. They make it interesting. If it all went as scripted there’d be little fun in it. Randolph was the #4-seed in a weakened ODAC, but avoided the “upsets” that cleared out the higher seeds and beat last year’s national finalist Lynchburg, the #6 seed, in the final for the automatic NCAA berth. It was the team’s first-ever NCAA tournament game against one of the favorites for the title. On paper, this was almost like a #1/#16 game in the first round of March Madness, except that soccer plays by different rules and can be much crueler than other sports. 

I like that Randolph came to play. I like that they believed. I like that they took advantage of their few chances. I don’t like that Christopher Newport left their finishing boots at home. I don’t like that we won’t get to see them play at their best and see them challenge for the title. I don’t like that their All-American candidates won’t get another chance to shine. Christopher Newport was the better team yesterday and all season, but when it mattered yesterday they weren’t the winning team. This is sports; it's not always just. And that’s not to take away from Randolph, but let’s face it, they don’t need me or anyone else to praise them—they are still dancing and that’s worth more than anything I could say about them right now.

Sometimes it’s not the mere result, but the scoreline that is the surprise. Like Calvin beating Loras 4-0! Loras was the favorite but it would have been wrong to think that Calvin, who has performed well in the tournament the past couple years and better than their season might have suggested, couldn’t be competitive and win this match. But it’s the scoreline that is the real surprise. Loras was fourth in the nation in scoring offense with 3.48 gpg and had only been shutout once by D-III opposition, that the 2-0 regular season conference loss to Luther. They also had a 0.65 GAA and had only conceded more than two goals once in a 3-3 tie with Central. Calvin’s defense was good with a 0.75 GAA and their offense decent with 2.14 gpg, but neither was outstanding and they could not have been expected to win 4-0 against a team as good as Loras. But they did. And the scoreline, not the result, might be as surprising as the Randolph upset of Christopher Newport. 

I like “last-minute” game-winners. In men’s action, DeSales scored the game’s lone goal against York with just over a minute to play. Brockport men beat Manhattanville 1-0 on a goal with just under five minutes left on the clock. And on the women’s side we had four sudden-death overtime game-winners. 

I like the excitement of overtime, and surprisingly there was only one men’s overtime game so far in the tournament (out of 31 matches), and that was the very first game on Thursday: Salisbury versus Neumann.  They went 110 minutes scoreless before settling things from the penalty spot, Neumann advancing to meet Messiah today. That means in the other 30 men’s matches there were no ties, much less scoreless ties. That’s amazing in soccer. But I am happy because I like goals. Granted, it was first round action where the match-ups are often more uneven and less prone to stalemates, but I still think that was amazing.

So for sudden death overtime excitement you needed to be following the women’s side where you would have overdosed. Almost half (13 of 30) of women’s games Saturday went to overtime, nine of them scoreless. I understand soccer enough to know that sometimes a scoreless game can be very exciting and a goal-fest can be very unsatisfying. But I still like goals and dislike scoreless draws.  Most of us like goals and unfortunately there was a dearth of them in women’s action Saturday. Moreover, six scoreless draws and three 1-1 ties went to a penalty shootout. Certainly the shootout does not lack drama, which I like, but most of us do not like having to decide soccer games via a shooting contest from the penalty stripe. I certainly don’t even if I get gripped by their drama as they unfold.  

I dislike that 10-0 wins are possible in NCAA tournament action. In general, I don’t have the same problem with double-digit goal tallies that some do, and I do dislike the whining that ensues after such results. But regular season schedules will sometimes result in lopsided match-ups that can spurn the debate about running up the score. Yesterday, though, was NCAA tournament play. I already said that I like the chance for upsets which means having teams participate that aren’t expected to win. But I like competitive games. Lopsided games aren’t enjoyable to watch, while a competitive match can bring out the best in both sides. I think the tournament should try to be as competitive as possible, but I’ll stop before opening the can of worms that is challenging the automatic-berth system.

I like that these days you can watch so many D-III games via streaming video. The technology is wonderful and it’s great that more and more schools are taking advantage of it, even if they don’t do so throughout the regular season. I like that the NCAA requires the host schools to webcast all the games or none of the games; that is, they can’t only do their team’s games. Even if the hosts do not provide audio commentary for the other games, this is great for the fans of the travelling teams as well as general fans. It’s better yet when the host school has a good broadcast person or team that also does the other games. I’m not sure if the lack of video coverage of some regional pods is due to this requirement to do all or none, but I certainly hope not.

I dislike the poor quality or inexistence of regional pod web pages on the host schools’ website. I had thought that the NCAA both required such a page and had some minimum requirements for its content, but I was so disappointed by so many host schools these past few days that I had to go looking for the NCAA policy concerning this. I could not find it so I don’t know if that means there is no policy or that it’s hidden where I (and apparently numerous schools) cannot find it. Let me say that some schools do a great job with not only all the pertinent information provided and well presented, but also adding team capsules or game previews. But too many hosts fell short of the mark, in my opinion. I dislike when schools bury the regional pod information in an article about the school making the tournament and/or being selected to host. I dislike being on the home page of the host team and finding no obvious link to the regional pod information. It’s not that difficult to clearly present the 2-day, 3-game schedule with links to live stats, audio, and/or video for each game all on one webpage with an obvious link from the team’s home page, and all schools should be doing this with or without the NCAA requiring it.

I love a well-manicured grass field. And I love the varied landscapes and backdrops to the games: some fields tightly lined by aged masonry college buildings, others open to the country side; some surrounded by green, others with beautiful autumn colors, and others already with winter’s grey. I dislike soccer played on football-marked fields and I watched a lot of it already this weekend. I understand the practical reasons why this happens and for that reason I guess it couldn’t be a criterion in the selection of regional and sectional hosts. Undersized fields and astroturf are avoided as per the criteria, and that used to keep a some top seeds from hosting before most of them managed to upgrade. I’m okay with the use of the modern-day synthetic grass fields and agree that is preferred to really poor grass fields, but I wish the only lines on the field were the ones that belonged to the game I am watching.

Likes and dislikes, I love this time of year. I love D-III soccer. And I love that I will be seeing some if it live tonight.

Comments or feedback for the author?  Email Christan Shirk.

Jim Matson, Christan Shirk, Ryan Harmanis, and other staff writers and contributors help cover the games and results across the nation.

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