We were on a roll, unstoppable in conference play. We had tied the #3 ranked team in the country and won three key conference games in a row. Entering the final week of the regular season, we were poised to make the North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC) tournament for the first time since 2006. No one on our team had a doubt that we were going to win the whole tournament the following week.
And here we were, in our last game, somehow down 2-1 in the second half to Kenyon. Suddenly, that conference tournament wasn’t a certainty. A few days before, our team threw away a two-goal lead at Hiram dropping a game that would have certainly catapulted us into the tournament.
You could feel the tension and anxiety emanating from every Yeoman player. On a freezing night in late October, we stood huddled closely on the sideline to keep warm. Kenyon had already earned a spot in the conference tournament, playing only to secure a higher seed. We, on the other hand, were in a three-way tie for third, matched evenly in points with Allegheny and Denison. We beat Denison, slipped up and lost to Allegheny in overtime, while Denison beat Allegheny. Only two of the three teams would make the tournament.
We were desperate and uneasy in the dying minutes of the game. Struggling to keep warm, players on the sideline were now secretly huddling around a cell phone, hoping to get an update on the other two games that would decide our postseason destiny. When the final whistle blew in our loss to Kenyon, we were eager to discover our fate. It came down to a series of tiebreakers between Oberlin, Denison, and Allegheny.
The soccer gods were not with us that October evening, as we remained the odd team out of the conference tournament. The season abruptly ended. What we had hoped was going to be a breakthrough season finished on a bitter note. A sense of disappointment and anger kicked in. The impossible had happened.
Yet there was so much to learn from those 90 minutes, so much to take away. I think about that game, and the feeling I felt at the end of it every time I step onto a field or into a gym in preparation for the upcoming season. Now entering my senior year as a captain, I refuse to let my soccer career end on the same note as last season; I’m pumped.
I am most excited by the fact that not one of my 28 teammates will let my senior season end on that same note. We call it OC Love. We don’t play for ourselves, we play for each other. I am honored to stand side by side with every one of those guys. While I was initially a bit hesitant about my role as captain, the fact that our team gels so well, both on and off the field, makes the responsibilities seem like a piece of cake.
For us, the fall 2011 season began immediately after that heartbreaking loss to Kenyon. It was not only me, but also every player on the team that felt disappointment and anger. Just as I did, they too used that loss to fuel the most competitive and productive off-seasons in OC soccer history. My teammates are just as ready, just as excited.
September 2 has been circled on our calendars as the long awaited season kickoff match under the lights. As we near the end of the summer, I sense a lot of excitement for our grueling preseason and training trip to Brazil. Soon, the anger and bitterness from last season will be replaced by goosebumps and joy as we step onto Fred Schultz Field and begin another journey towards a championship.