SAN DIEGO, CALIF. – Thursday morning, the Drover women hopped on an airplane – some for the first time – to travel to the West Coast to take on the biggest challenge of their playing careers.
After hours of traveling, the Drovers have spent their time in San Diego, Calif., preparing and practicing for No. 4 Point Loma Nazarene in the 2011 NAIA Women’s Soccer National Championship Opening Round. Kick off is scheduled for 1 p.m. CST on Saturday.
“We watched them, and they’re really good, by all means. But what they do well is probably what we do well,” Coach Jimmy Hampton said. “Even though, as good as they are, we think the matchup is actually beneficial for the girls with our style.”
The Drovers arrived in San Diego on Thursday afternoon and have had two training sessions on the game field.
For some Drovers, the wait has been too long.
“I just like playing. I’m ready to get out there,” said senior Emily Stevenson. “We’ve been here so long; I just want to play.”
Team captain Gabby Barros said she has confidence in her team as long as they keep from getting distracted and play like one.
“Right now, we’re focused on the game,” she said. “I hope that if we show up as a team and play as a team, we’ll play like we did the conference tournament.”
The similarities between USAO and Point Loma Nazarene include the teams’ strength and athleticism, Hampton said.
Stevenson, for one, said she isn’t fearful of the highly ranked, fairly unknown team.
“I’m not scared of them. I think we match up pretty well,” she said. “I’m excited. I just want to play. It’ll be a good game.”
The Drover men also made it into the Opening Round, forcing their coach to make the tough decision on which team to travel with. He ended up sending Coach Alexis Vizarelis and Coach Tommy Hubbard in his place.
“It’s probably harder on me than on anybody. Believe it or not, it’s like having two kids,” Hampton said. “I think Coach Hubbard and Coach Vizarelis will do a great job. It’s not about confidence … We think the teams will perform the way they are supposed to regardless of who is there.”
Barros said the team understands that it’s not about who is on the bench; It’s about who’s in the game.
“I feel like it can be a factor if we let it be,” Barros said. “But it comes down to we’re the ones playing the game.”
Vizarelis, acting as head coach for the game, had a message for the women in Friday afternoon’s training: Embrace the moment and play like a family.
The Drovers will return to Chickasha on Monday afternoon. The winner of Saturday’s game will move on to the 2011 NAIA Women’s Soccer National Championship final site in Decatur, Ala.
Fans can watch the game live pay-per-view at http://www.americaonesports.com/partner_members.asp?id=138.
Hampton said the key to the game will be relaxing and remembering what got the team to their first national tournament.
“I think the biggest thing is the keep the nerves calm. We’re excited. But remember what we began in August,” Hampton said. “I think as long as they do that, the women have a very good chance of knocking off a great team.”
And that is exactly what Barros expects.
“My expectations are high,” she said. “I expect nothing less than a win.”