I: General Note
There has been a change of plans and I will be departing Storrs for the summer on Saturday, May 7. Consequently, I will not be attending any more games this season, thus wrapping up my first year of UConn sports. Now, it is time to conclude this blog for the season. I have chosen to call the concluding post "Est Terminis" roughly Latin for "It's over". So below, please find my sentiments for this season.
II - Introduction
Going to UConn, I know as well as anyone how much of a presence basketball and football teams have on campus. This is especially true at UConn, with our Men's Basketball national championship, Women's final four, and our BCS game in football. But does anyone really care about the minor sports, like soccer, field hockey, baseball, ice hockey, or anything else like that? Well, I personally do, and as I've noted on here I often enjoy these "minor" sports more than the big money sports. First of all, with the exception of a few players on our baseball and men's soccer teams, nobody in any of these sports is ever going pro. Yes, they have some scholarship, but it's usually not a full ride, and they have no future in the game after they graduate. Which also means they're true students instead of being paid (with my tuition money) to play a sport and make money for the school.
And the fact is, these athletes are far more down-to-earth than most others. I was heading over to the baseball office in Greer Fieldhouse the other day to pick up something I won from the student fan group (K-9 Unit) for being one of the top fans. But I got lost in Greer and somehow wound up outside the Track & Field coach's office. Bill Morgan was outside his office talking to one of the building staff, and when he saw me looking confused, he asked if I was lost. When I told him I was looking for the baseball office, he humorously replied that I was "about 10 feet away" but that unfortunately "those were 10 vertical feet", in other words it was right below me. Honestly, if that had been Jim Calhoun's office (disregarding the fact that Calhoun's office is sequestered in Gampel, lest he be bothered by people like me) he probably would have ignored me or grunted a quick reply and told me to get out. And sometimes these small sports have so few fans that the players learn to recognize the regulars. The other day on the bus, a softball player came up to me and said she'd seen me at a few of the games, and was I a fan? Of course, I'm a fan of every UConn team. And she seemed genuinely excited that there was even one UConn student fan. I can't imagine Kashif Moore getting that excited, or even recognizing ANY of his fans, even those seniors who have been in the front row every game for the past four years.
Russell Blair, one of my favorite sports columnists in the Daily Campus (UConn's Newspaper), is graduating, and wrote his last column yesterday. He expressed exactly the same sentiments I did, only from a writer's perspective. He writes "I never covered a BCS bowl, or a men's basketball national championship, but that's not why I started writing. It's things like an athlete Facebook messaging you after you write a feature piece about them. It's [Women's ice hockey coach Heather] Linstad calling me back after I got her voicemail and apologizing that she couldn't call me back sooner because she was in an airport in Minnesota. It's Jim Penders telling me that the feature piece I wrote was "far too self-indulgent for me to read all the way through," but thanking me nonetheless." Of course, Russell has more exposure to these people than I do, working for the UConn newspaper, but he still gets attention right there. He also recounts one of his first memories working for the DC Sports. "Nancy Stevens, UConn's field hockey coach for the last 21 years, was one of the nicest people I've ever met. I remember the time she allowed [fellow field hockey writer Chris] Brodeur and me to wait to interview players in the hallway outside the locker room when she saw us standing outside and shivering in the cold." For those looking for Blair's full column, you can find it here.
Yes, it is true that these small sports get less attention than the big money sports. But I've been at 68 games this year across all sports and the ones where I felt most passionate about attending and which I enjoyed the most were the smaller ones. Alas, these sports get no respect. But I feel if more people cared about them like they care about basketball and football, they would find out why people like me truly care about them.
III - It Begins in the Fall
I first arrived at UConn as a freshman the Friday of WOW weekend - August 27, 2010. Almost on a whim, I decided to go to the soccer game vs. Boston University. Although it was only an exhibition, I still had an awesome time with the Goal Patrol, which I truly believe is the greatest soccer fan club on any college campus in America. On September 1, I would attend my first non-exhibition at UConn, a 2-0 win by the Huskies over St. Francis (Game 2). I had never been a big soccer fan before coming to UConn, but after attending the BU game mainly to show support for my new school, I realized that I could get myself interested in just about any sport if UConn was playing.
My first venture outside soccer was the Women's volleyball game vs. Hartford on September 3 (Game 3). I honestly don't remember much about this game, but I must have had a good time, because it furthered the epiphany I had after the BU game. I would attend several soccer games after that, before my first experience with a "mega" UConn sport.
On Saturday, September 11th, I headed out to Rentschler Field to watch the Huskies take on Texas Southern in a football game. We won in a blowout 62-3. I had never been at any large football stadium before, so I was completely impressed by the Rent. It was an awesome experience in the student section, cheering on my Huskies. I know I have mentioned this idea many times before, but I really enjoy it.
IV - Something Else
But for my first month or so here, I really only attended three sports - soccer, football, and volleyball. Then, once again, acting completely on a whim, I attended a Field Hockey match vs. Yale on October 6th. Although I missed about half of the game to watch the end of Roy Halladay's perfect game that I was alerted to by text, I was instantly hooked on this "other" sport. It was also one of the first games I wrote about on this blog, which I decided to start to collect my thoughts on all these sporting events I was attending. I must say I greatly enjoyed writing about these games for this blog this year. I look forward to attending many more sporting events as a sophomore next year.
I would ultimately follow our men's soccer team through the Big East tournament, although regrettably I would miss our NCAA tournament game against Brown as it fell during Thanksgiving Break. And I couldn't even watch it online due to power outage in Storrs effecting the webstream. I would also cheer our Field Hockey team through the Big East tournament, before losing agonizingly 1-0 to Syracuse. I cheered via computer though the Field Hockey "Elite Eight" where we lost at Maryland. Had we beaten Syracuse, I would likely have seen the tournament here. But alas, it is what it is. Hopefully we can make a run next year.
V- Hoops Season and BCS
Our hoops teams entered this season with completely different expectations. Most people did not think our men's team could do much of anything this year, while our women were expected to win a three-peat. My first basketball game ever was an exhibition vs. American International on November 3. The game was a blowout, as expected, but I was hooked. Finally, a real game was played on November 12, vs. Stony Brook, also a blowout. But still, little was expected for the men's team. Of course, I also loyally followed the women's team, and may have at the time held them in higher regard due to the higher expectations.
Over Thanksgiving break, I followed the team in Maui. I remember listening to a staticy radio feed of the game vs. Wichita State on my way home from a doctor's appointment. I then remember watching the closing minutes on TV and thinking "perhaps we can win this year". And then we beat Michigan State and Kentucky the next two nights and the rest is history.
And of course, New Year's night, from the comfort of my own couch, I watched UConn get crushed by Oklahoma. It hurt to see the season come to an end that way. But it was a fantastic season overall. The game against West Virginia may have been the best game I attended this year (was it really? I'll reveal it over the next couple weeks). But that loss in the BCS hurt.
VI: Hockey, a Break from the Hoops
And of course, the only real "minor" sport during the Winter is Ice Hockey. The men's team is quite popular (albeit bad) with the Blue Line, the hockey equivalent of Goal Patrol. My first experience with Hockey was on November 6, when we tied Canisius 1-1. I had always wanted to attend women's hockey games as well, particularly after nearly making the NCAA last season, but didn't get around to it until January 29, when we lost 4-1 to Boston University. On an interesting note, BU was the first opponent I saw in three different sports - men's soccer, women's ice hockey, and softball.
And of course, I saw our Women's Ice Hockey team exit the Hockey East tournament in the semifinals vs. Northeastern thus ending our season. But there's always next year.
VII: Basketball Domination
Our men's team finished in a big skid and it looked like we were down and out after a promising start. But over Spring Break, I watched on ESPN as we dominated in the Big East Tournament. And on Saturday night, I watched as we beat Louisville to win five straight games and head to March Madness. Then, I watched us beat Bucknell, Cincinnati, San Diego State, and Arizona to head to the Final Four. I even got on FOX CT News that night (although they didn't show my interview, just me screaming and a lovely shot of my Husky hoodie).
Our women's team advanced too, but that was no surprise. Then, on Saturday night, I watched us face Kentucky in the Union food court at the event set up. It was an epic game, and when we won to advance to the National Championship, everyone went crazy. But the next night, we would be temporarily dampened, as women's basketball shockingly lost to Notre Dame to not advance to the final. But any depression we had was erased the next night as I and 10,000 other students crammed into Gampel Pavilion to watch the Huskies knock off Butler. Storming the court, then partying, it was just amazing. Great exhilliration. I can hardly say it. AWESOME! That was the apex of the Husky sports season, no doubt about it.
VIII- Spring, and the End
Then the spring came, and with it, the baseball and softball seasons. Lacrosse came too, but I had to miss every home game for one reason or another. But baseball was fun. We had the K-9 Unit, and I only missed four of our home games. The opener vs. Holy Cross was very disappointing, as we tied 2-2 after sitting out in the cold for 16 innings. It was called due to darkness. This is why the JOC needs lights. But I moved on, and after missing part or all of every game against Pittsbugh due to cold, I watched all 27 innings as we swept St. John's to really get our season rolling. And hopefully we can go all the way to Omaha this year. I'll be following the team from home, of course.
What else can I say? This has been a fun year. 68 games, 51 wins, 11 losses, and 6 ties. It has been a fun year. It will be a lonely summer without Husky sports. But come next August, hopefully we host another soccer game over WOW weekend. Whenever we play, I'll be there. Until then, so long. Well, not yet, because after finals I'll be counting down the Top 10 games I attended this year. So wait and stick around for that. But here's to 2011-12! May we win even more championships. Go Huskies!
Note: Through the blog simulcast program, this has been reposted on BleacherReport, as will many of my other posts. You can find it here.