Friday, April 22, 2011

While The Coach Is In Motion

One of the normal Friday afternoon sights around here is a line of Coach USA buses that forms in the circle near DeNunzio Pool.

These buses then are loaded up with coaches, athletes, equipment, athletic trainers, food, drinks and everything else that is standard for a college athletic team as it heads to the road.

The sidewalk in front of Caldwell Field House becomes the staging area, and bag after bag is first placed there and then under the bus. Athletes in their standard travel gear mill around. Cars race by dropping off other supplies or latecomers before heading back to park in Lot 21 someplace.

The team itself doesn't usually make a difference, since it's basically the same for every sport. Well, some sports, like hockey, leave from Baker Rink, so it's not every team that heads out from outside of Jadwin.

Still, it's something that hardly raises an eye anymore. Eventually, with everything on board - including movies to watch on the way - and the head coach seated in the front seat opposite the driver, away the bus goes, brimming with optimism on the way to the competition

It's tough to pick the right departure time, since there are too many competing factors, like classes, practice times, meal times, traffic and any number of others.

There aren't as many people around when the buses return, usually because they're doing so at night, mostly after midnight. Then, the real pain is clearing everything off the bus, getting everything back into Caldwell, getting rid of the garbage off the bus - all after sitting on a bus for hours.

TigerBlog hates buses. They're a guaranteed way to make TB queasy, and let's face it, there's only so much hand sanitizer that a person can use in one day.

Most of TB's bus travel experience has been with men's basketball, ironically enough, when he was still at the newspaper.

In fact, TB once saw Pete Carril violate all of the rules that are posted near the door, as he stood forward of the white line, drinking a beer, smoking a cigar, eating and, worst of all, speaking to the driver while the coach was in motion.

Peter Farrell, the women's track and field coach, says he doesn't really mind traveling, though he does know several coaches who have gotten out of the profession after saying that they "couldn't get on the bus one more time."

One coach who probably can't wait to get on the bus today is Chris Sailer, the women's lacrosse coach, even if her ride is five times longer than the one from Wednesday night.

Sailer, a Hall-of-Fame coach who has won three NCAA titles, has her team tied for first place in the Ivy League, at least by number of losses. In fact, it's a four-way tie right now between Penn, Princeton, Harvard and Dartmouth, and it's guaranteed that those four teams will make up the field for the Ivy League tournament.

There are still two pretty good questions remaining, though. First, which team or teams will win the championship? And second, where will the tournament be?

Well, the answer to the second question is: It can be at any of the four schools.

And to the first? The answer is that there can be an outright championship all the way to a four-way tie.

One thing there cannot be is a four-way tie at 6-1, since there are still head-to-head matchups between the four, beginning tomorrow when Sailer's team gets off the bus in Hanover to take on Dartmouth and continuing next week when Dartmouth takes on Harvard.

Penn has one game remaining, against Brown (1-4 in the league) tomorrow. Both Harvard (tomorrow) and Princeton (Wednesday) also take on Columbia (1-4).

Penn is already 2-1 against the other three, with one-goal wins over Dartmouth and Harvard and an 11-7 loss to Princeton the other night that snapped the Quaker's 34-game Ivy winning streak and threw this race wide open.

Princeton won that game after a one-goal loss to Harvard last weekend, and so the Tigers are 1-1 against the other three. Harvard is also 1-1, and Dartmouth is 0-1.

If you're a Princeton fan, you're rooting for two Princeton wins and then a Dartmouth win over Harvard, and you'll have the Ivy women's tournament in Princeton.

If Princeton, Penn and Harvard all win out, then they'd all be 6-1 with no way to break the tie for home field, which would then be determined by random draw.

Any two-way or three-way tie that includes Penn but not Princeton will favor the Quakers, and Penn has the easiest path to 6-1, since it only has one game and it's the only team not playing one of the other three.

The men still have all seven teams alive for a tournament spot; the women's field at least is set. Both races figure to be up in the air right to the end.

For the team that wins the Ivy tournament, there's an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Last year, in the first year of the tournament, the host teams went 1-1, as the Penn women won in Philadelphia but the Cornell men lost to Princeton in Ithaca, so home field is no guarantee of anything.

Still, it's always better not to have to get on a bus.

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