Embracing the opportunity

ORANGE BEACH, ALA. – A semester of early morning practices and late afternoon drills paid off for the Drovers, as they prepare for a history-making game on Monday.

The Drover men traveled to Orange Beach, Ala., to play in the 2010 NAIA Men’s Soccer National Championship. It is the first time in school history that a soccer team has gotten this far in nationals.

“We told the boys … let’s make history,” Head Coach Jimmy Hampton said. “Hopefully, we can.”

The Drovers play in the second round of the championship at 2:30 p.m. Monday. They take on the University of Great Falls (Mont.), who upset No. 2 Simon Fraser in the opening round of the tournament.

“We don’t know much about Great Falls … but any team that can go and beat Simon Fraser will be a difficult team to go play against,” team captain John Gardner said. “We’re just ready for everything.”

With no common opponents, Drover coaches aren’t sure what to expect out of Great Falls, besides the fact that they are a quality team.

“I don’t think you get lucky to get to the 16,” Hampton said. “Great Falls must be a very talented.”

Both Hampton and Gardner said the Drovers will spend the first 15 minutes of the game as a way of testing and learning about the other team. Then, they will make adjustments and do what they do best.

“From our standpoint, we will focus more on what will make us successful,” Hampton said.

While Great Falls has a few play-makers the Drovers will have to watch out for, Hampton said the Drovers have weapons of their own – including David Otieno, Richard Norman, Niall Crick and SAC Newcomer of the Year Nicolas Alberto.

“Based on what I know, I think it will be more difficult for them to match up with us,” he said. “We have four or six players that they will need to match up with.”

As captain, Gardner said his preparation is the same in each game, but it falls on him and the team’s other team captain Sam Shaddick to ensure the less experienced players can stay relaxed and focused.

“It’s easy to get caught up in your own game,” Gardner said.  “You have to look for your less experienced players and make sure they’re less nervous.”

While Gardner may speak causally about the game in his hotel the afternoon before, he understands the magnitude of the competition.

“This is the biggest game I’ve ever played at USAO,” he said. “We’ve had more than one second chance this year. We’re not holding back anything.”

Gardner said the importance of the game to him is simply to play hard for his teammates.

“It is about us. We want to do it for each of us,” he said. “Yeah, I’m going to be back next year, but some of the boys aren’t, so I have to treat it like it’s my last game, too.”

Hampton said the coaching staff has told the team to embrace the opportunity to play and to remember the most basic element – it’s just a game.

“We’ve played 20 of them,” he said. “If we can get in that mindset, we’ll be OK.”

 

ON THE ROAD

The Drovers had to travel nearly 15 hours by bus to the tournament site after returning back from Brownsville, Texas, just four days before.

The Drovers left at midnight after Thanksgiving and arrived in Orange Beach late Friday afternoon. Hampton said the team looked tired in practice Saturday, but he was pleased with their performance in Sunday’s training.

“Which is why we came down when we did,” he said. “Our concern is that the last four weeks could wear on them.”

The Drovers have been traveling a lot recently, with some of the longer away games falling at the end of the season. But Gardner said for him, the traveling is a positive thing.

“I like the traveling,” Gardner said. “It’s just about the soccer when we leave. We get away from all the distractions.”

 

WATCHING THE GAME

The NAIA will present the game live online. To watch the live video, click here. There is a $9.95 single game viewing fee.

For students and fans in Chickasha, the USAO Student Activities Board is hosting a free watch party in the Drover Den in the Student Center on USAO’s campus. SAB will provide the live-streamed video along with snacks and drinks.

Fans also have the opportunity to follow the game using live stats, which are available by clicking the “live stats” link on USAO’s sports website.

Tickets are $8 per day for adults and $3 per day for youth to see the games in person at the Orange Beach Sports Complex. Also available are a $20 all-tournament pass.

The championship is a single-loss elimination tournament. If the Drovers win on Monday, they will play again Wednesday. It is presented by Orthopaedic Group, P.C., and Encore Rehabilitation, Inc.

For more information on the tournament, click here.

Published: Nov. 28, 2010