Just Another Weekend

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Life on the road can be an exciting aspect to college athletics.

Several aspire, but few experience the thrill of travelling around the United States, playing the sport they love.

A weekend ago, I received an opportunity to travel with the Ohio soccer team as it visited Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan universities. As a reporter, I was aware of the team’s demanding schedule with practices and games, but had never observed the team on the road.

From Thursday to Sunday, I witnessed a typical weekend for the Ohio soccer team.

As we pulled away from Athens, Coach Stacy Strauss got on the bus microphone to tell the team of their next objective. It was, as she said, “a team bonding” experience. It included one local stop before we hit the highway.

Strauss separated the girls into four groups, and we pulled up to Kroger’s grocery store where they would buy items to build the opposing Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan mascots. The groups with the best mascots would receive dessert at their first dinner stop.

The rules were simple. The teams had 10 minutes to find the items and only $12 to spend. They also couldn’t use any outside items.

As the girls roamed around Kroger’s, several citizens took notice, but couldn’t understand what the players were doing. There were some players in the vegetable section while others took time to check out the candy aisle.

The coaches gave the players time warnings by saying on the loud speaker, “Ohio soccer, you have four minutes.”

The first leg of the trip was a long two hours, but certainly a fun ride. The girls showed a great amount of teamwork as they contributed to the building of their Broncos or Eagles. Of course, the girls couldn’t help but talk trash to the other groups.

“I can’t hear you because you’re all the way back there in last place,” Cat Rogers said.

As we arrived at our first stop, all the groups had finished their masterpieces and were ready to show them off to the coaches to judge. Every piece was so well done that it could have been mistaken for one of Picasso’s works, but the judges had to choose only one of each mascot.

Their decisions generated both cheers and leers. Mattie Liston, who was expecting a win but was denied, released her anger by splitting her group’s artwork in half, followed by the destruction of the other mascots. Suddenly, all were cheering.

Following dinner at a favorite stop, O’Charley’s, the next two-hour leg of the bus ride had a different atmosphere. Strauss requested the team on the bus remain quiet for players that wished to work on schoolwork. The team’s silence was rewarded with the movie The Proposal for the final two hours on the road.

By the time we greeted the Fairfield Inn by Marriott in Ann Arbor, the entire team was exhausted. They had a long day ahead of them and needed to get some sleep.

I woke up at 8:30 Friday morning to get ready for the day. Breakfast in the hotel lobby was a time for players to catch up on homework before the day, catch up on the news or simply relax with their teammates.

Before departing for a pregame practice, a man asked the team for a picture.

Because the girls are constantly in Ohio University gear, they’re easy to recognize. They have a celebrity status no matter where they go. Others were talking to the team, and asking about their games this weekend. And the players were always gracious.

From 10:45 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., the team was constantly busy. The day included a hard fought defeat to Eastern Michigan, and then it was heading down Route 94 to the next stop. The fatigue of a grueling day made the bus ride and arrival at Four Points Sheraton extremely relaxing. The team spent its Friday night finishing more homework and relaxing in the hotel.

Just another Friday for the soccer team.

The next morning, I woke up to be delighted with a delicious buffet breakfast. Turns out the Kent State soccer team was also staying in the same hotel, but neither team acknowledged each other. I guess rivalries remain.

It was an “easy” day for the team. They only had a video session and walk through at the Western Michigan stadium. The walk through was held in the freezing cold rain.

We finished the day with dinner at Outback Steakhouse. Like every other meal with the team, it was spectacular.

A boisterous fan started an “O-H-I-O” chant in the restaurant, which is risky business in Michigan. The girls gladly finished the chant with an “I-O!”

After dinner, some girls finished homework, while others vanished around the hotel, exploring the fitness room, swimming pool and camping out in one room to watch movies together.

It was just another Saturday for the soccer team.

As the bus approached the playing field Sunday afternoon, the coaching staff prepared its team for the upcoming game.

Strauss gave the team a speech, where she included a motivational quote, and Assistant Coach Amy Rossi added to the speech, telling the importance of the number 12, the number of points remaining in MAC play. Strauss showed her creative side by rapping a pre-game speech. The team applauded her improvement from a previous attempt earlier in the season.

Before the team exited the bus, they watched a video created by the coaching staff to pump the team up. Team manager Chris Meister videotapes every game for the team to study game film. Those tapes are also used to create these videos.

In the video, the coaches specifically wanted the team to remember they can “rise from the fallen,” as they showed footage from the earlier Eastern Michigan loss. In other words, Sunday was a new day.

The girls rose to the occasion, playing a great game for 67 minutes, but Mother Nature was not kind. A short, but torrential storm destroyed the playing field, cancelling the game thus eliminating the one goal lead the Bobcats once held. The team bonding experience created by the storm will always be remembered by the team, though.

This was not exactly another Sunday for the soccer team.

Before departing Michigan, the girls got Chipotle for dinner and prepared themselves for a six-hour drive back to Athens. The ride home was certainly a long one.

They were fortunate to change their wet clothing in the locker room. I was able to change as well, but had to suffer through wet shoes the entire six hours. Now I know to bring a spare.

The girls did several things on the way home. Some finished up homework from the weekend while others watched the final minutes of The Proposal.

It was just another bus ride for the girls.

When I departed this weekend, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I now realize how difficult it is to be a student athlete.

Sure, there are some great benefits: fantastic food, comfortable beds and bonding with teammates. But in reality, their schedules are always jam-packed with practice, walk-throughs, and games.

From an outsider’s perspective, it looked extremely difficult to be a collegiate athlete.

For the Ohio soccer team, it was just another weekend.