Keeping up with the Lord Jeffs at the Final Four

imageOn Thursday night's NCAA banquet:
The banquet held tonight captured the feeling of being in the Final Four. Besides the plane ride, up until this point our trip this weekend has seemed like any other road trip. First-years have responsibilities such as being responsible for the cones and balls, seniors sit in the back of the bus, and we watch movies to and from our destinations. Tonight we truly began to realize what we are a part of this weekend and how special this opportunity really is.

Sitting next to programs like Messiah, Loras, Stevens, and Wheaton of Illinois was a humbling experience in itself. The food was delicious and everything was first class. The city of Greensboro, Greensboro College and the NCAA have done everything possible to make this experience unforgettable. From the hotel rooms to the gift bags, this has been a memorable 24 hours and we haven’t even played a game yet! 

Tonight was also exciting because we had a chance to hear one of our seniors speak, as Jeff Grover represented us as at the banquet. All eight teams from the men’s and women’s Final Fours chose a member of their team to talk a little bit about themselves, their school and their season. Jeff spoke eloquently about the opportunities Amherst affords its student-athletes, and managed to fit in at least 10 SAT words in one sentence.

After the banquet we received our gift bags, which were yet another enjoyable part of the weekend. Then we proceeded to have our usual meeting to go over our game plan for tomorrow. We are excited to represent Amherst and compete hard Friday afternoon. I’m sure that I can speak for the team in saying that we truly appreciate all the support we have gotten from students, faculty, administrators, parents and alumni. We hope that you can tune in for the game tomorrow on webcast.
~Mark Crane '10

imageOn Thursday's trip to Sedgefield Elementary School:
This afternoon, a few of us lads had the chance to play soccer with third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders at Sedgefield Elementary School. And what a rousing reception we got! Pulling into the parking lot, we were greeted by 15 boisterous youngsters who were waving a bunch of posters. “Make a goal!”, “Go Lord Jeffs!”, and, believe it or not, our dearly beloved Amherst creed, Terras Irradient, could be seen on the purple and white poster board. The kids wanted us to have the signs and we gladly accepted them—we’ll make sure to take them into the locker room with us tomorrow.

We spent about an hour with the group, dribbling, passing, and sharing some moves. They were a great bunch to work with—full of energy and eager to play the game. Some highlights from the day included the kids guessing that, because of his beard, Taylor Brown ’09 was 50 years old. Tyler Wilson ’11 also fell in the mud while kicking a soccer ball, much to the delight of all involved. But best of all was watching a fourth-grader named Peter (known around these parts, he told us, as Peter Pan) dominating the drills, a precocious third-grader named Cam beating a few of us in some sprints, and fifth-grader, Patrick, winning the juggling contest.

It’s too easy to get wrapped up in the flashbulbs accompanying the Final Four. Kicking the ball about with these elementary schoolers helped remind us that sport is not just about championships; it’s also about building new friendships. And we’re lucky to have a few more friends shouting the Amherst name for us this weekend.
~Joe Addison ’09

imageOn arriving in Greensboro:
We knew from the start that there would be many distractions during our trip and that it would be a challenge to stay mentally focused and not get caught up in the novelty of the Final Four. "This is a business trip," said Coach Serpone before we left Amherst. I think we've done a great job of acting accordingly.

This isn't to say that we weren't all visibly excited by the ceremony and pomp of it all. In the circulating door of our hotel, protected in a glass case, rotate the two national championship trophies—one for the men and one for the women. The logo on our door keycards carries the NCAA Division III championship logo instead of the Sheraton insignia. The food is delicious and the rooms are beautiful.

And yet I don't think anyone is satisfied with simply being here. This is turning out to be a great experience, but this is by no means simply "gravy" on our season. It is the culmination of everything we have been working for since the first day of preseason.

It was apparent from today's practice that no one has forgotten the importance of the task at hand. We were intense and caught up in the process and, for as long as we were on the field, we were indifferent
to our surroundings. This is the final sprint of a 12-week marathon. I firmly believe that whatever the outcome of this weekend, we will be better men for the experience.
~Mike Connolly ’09

imageOn the days leading up to Greensboro:
The weather in Amherst this past week was typical of early New England winter.  Sunday was quite cold, sleet poured from the sky and the members of our team dreamt of Wednesday and warm, sweet Carolina.

Yet, warmer weather would release us from the icy grip of the wind sooner than we expected. A warm front (or warm by the standards of a group of New Englanders heartier than mother’s clam chowder) rolled in with the birth of December and brought us temperatures in the 50’s, a perfect simulation of the southern climate to which we would soon migrate.

December is an uncharted month for men’s Division III soccer players owing to the first ever restructuring of the Division III tournament. No longer are the semifinal and final matches played over Thanksgiving break, but over the first weekend in December. The men--the warriors--were excited, to say the least, to have the opportunity to play on frozen ground under the half-light of six hemi-powered, ozone-destroying, mobile stadium lights.

On the field the collective mood of the guys was one of eager anticipation of the days to come. Practices went smoothly and were as focused and thoroughly structured as they have been since August. Our legs were refreshed after a quick Thanksgiving layoff, and the energy in practice was palpable.

Off the field around our musical campus, the boys of freedom were frantically working to finish their schoolwork, talk to understanding professors and tie up any remaining loose ends.  It was a frantic few days in the library. Matt Lewis’ Halo 3 username received less action than in a normal week. Mark Crane worked diligently on a 12-page essay. Chris Skayne battled a psychology study while secretly continuing to pen Arby n’ The Chief. Reid Wilson became a recluse. Sam Kaplan slept less and less each night after watching a terrifying national geographic special on an Alaskan wolf attacks. Rory’s beard grew to fearsome proportions. James Mooney’s cowlick recovered from a recent haircut. And Rob Denious’ eternal quest for romance was unaffected.
That is how we find our few, our happy few, our band of brothers on the eve of the Final Four, excited and ready for a good weekend of soccer. We are appreciative of the opportunity that lies before us and proud to represent Amherst College and the NESCAC in North Carolina.
~Robert Denious ’10 and Samuel Kaplan ’12