Thursday, November 15, 2012

Through The Kaleidoscope

Sports, to their great credit, are not about any one thing, and as such, they can be viewed through so many different prisms, often changing from moment to moment.

In so many ways, sports are a kaleidoscope, providing an ever-changing view and an ever-changing landscape, both from the outside looking in and also for those who are inside the lens.

For any game, for any day a team is together for that matter, sports can provide different challenges, different outcomes, different issues, different emotions.

Teams, especially college teams, go through so much together, from Day 1 on, sacrifice so much, are together so much, experience so much together along the way.

The kaleidoscope shows chaos at one moment and then harmony the next, a sense of collective effort that comes from a group that puts aside its individual goals in the name of team at one moment and then the struggle of each individual to buy into that the next.

The do all this for the experience, to be sure, of being college athletes and for their love of playing their particular sport.

And while they go down that path, they hold up in the back of their mind some lofty dreams, to keep it going as long as they can, to be together as long as they can, to put together the kinds of seasons that don't come around all the time and create as a team the kinds of memories that will last forever.

 Most teams don't reach those goals.

Some do. Some teams end up in the places that they've always dreamed of getting to, a sentiment summed up so famously by Bill Parcells when he screamed "this is why you life all them weights."

If they're lucky, their path will take them beyond what they could have hoped for, all the way to places that they've been dreaming of all along.

You know, like Utah. And Norfolk.

The Princeton women's soccer team will take on fourth-seeded Marquette in the second round of the NCAA tournament this afternoon, with the match to be held in Provo, Utah.

The field hockey team will play Maryland in the semifinals of the NCAA tournament Friday in Norfolk.

These might not seem like exotic destinations, but for the two teams they are Shangri-La.

It's easy to look from the outside at these two teams and admire their success, but there is no way to see how much has gone into making that success happen.

Like TB said, building teams is a very complex process, and then they go through so much together all year round, hoping to have much more go right than wrong.

In the case of the women's soccer team, there was the resolve to turn around last year's rare down season, something that started 12 months ago, not when this year began. It's easy to see a team that is 14-3-1, went 7-0-0 in the league, has won 12 straight games and defeated a West Virginia team that went undefeated in the Big 12 regular season in the opening round of the NCAA tournament and not realize that this isn't something that just happened. It's so much more than having good luck this year after having the ball not bounce right last year.

Besides, not everything went right this year. There were injuries - four starters lost during the year - and the need to keep moving forward and keep winning regardless of that. In that case, the 2012 Princeton women's soccer team isn't just about Jen Hoy; it's such a great team story.

The challenge today is daunting, as Marquette has been ranked as high as No. 2 nationally. Still, when the season began not that long ago, Princeton's biggest dream was to get to this very point, to be playing its best come mid-November and see how long the ride can continue.

As for the field hockey team, its challenge has been different. Princeton has played all year as a favorite, with its focus on getting to this weekend in Norfolk. Now that the team is there, anything can happen.

Princeton came into the season as the team with the Olympians, and that's not an easy way to go through a season, with that level of expectation, both internal and external.

None of that is what's important now. For Princeton, it's about the opportunity and a chance to make it all happen.

This moment, for both teams, is a rarity in sports. The kaleidoscope is completely focused now, and both teams can relish the fact that they've reached this point after all of the effort they put in to getting here.

And now they can do what they can to make the most of it.

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