A Weekend in the Land Time Forgot

SOMEWHERE OVER PENNSYLVANIA – The women’s soccer bus was supposed to leave at 5 p.m. on a Friday night, but as is the case during the course of the season, 10 minutes after departure has become the normal time to leave.

Tickets were passed around, meal money was dished out, and the ride to the airport began, amid talk about who was what Halloween night, so and so’s boyfriend did and didn’t do this and the thoughts of having a mid-term first thing Monday morning.

Calls were made to parents about flight times and airplane numbers and making sure bags and equipment are stowed away began the process of being checked and double-checked, lest no bag be left behind.

Dinner consisted of the food court at LaGuardia – McDonald’s, Sbarro and Chinese food were the meals of choice.

The flight to Pittsburgh was just over an hour from taxiing down the runway – but that is only half the journey, for another bus awaits to bring the team to Morgantown, W.Va., a sleepy little college town just beyond the Pennsylvania border.

They don’t look like an athletic team traveling to a game – the only thing that gave them away is the 29 red Nike bags at check-in, and the occasional pullover with a St. John’s logo.

Other than that, there was no hint of a team on their way to the most important game of the season – had it been February or March they could have easily been thought to be flying to Cancun or some other sunny destination than a town in the shadows of the Blue Mountains.

The plane was supposed to leave at 7:25 p.m., but as is the case with air travel, delays are inevitable. The more than half-hour wait seemed a little unnecessary, especially since it was the first delay the team had encountered all season.

Once in the air, the team becomes individuals.

Scattered seats around the aircraft kept teammates from each other, save the occasional glances from 15 rows away, but there were other options abound. Sleep was the most popular activity, but listening to music and catching up on homework were ample ways to pass the time.

But the plane took them only to Pittsburgh, and another bus would shuttle them the remaining 55 miles, a second chance at an hour’s sleep, rolling along on an unlit highway, arriving at the hotel close to midnight.

Less than 14 hours later they were on the field for a light practice, getting to know the soggy, muddy, footing that they would play on the next day.

An early team dinner gave way to a meeting in the hotel’s conference room, making sure there were no questions about scouting reports or defensive assignments.

Lights out signaled the beginning of the game even though it was over half a day away, for getting a good night’s sleep was the first step towards victory.

Sunday afternoon they arrived at the field, ready for a match they waited for all season, a chance to advance in the conference tournament.

Glory and triumph stood at one end, defeat and sorrow at the other.

They waged a battle against a team that was the highest seed, as well as playing on its home field.

The Red Storm fought valiantly to the end, but West Virginia wouldn’t go down, eventually winning 4-0 on the strength of three second-half goals.

Despite the loss, players exchanged greetings with friends on the Mountaineers – girls they had grown up with, played with or against since they were able to kick a soccer ball.

The bus back to Pittsburgh took a detour for dinner – with hours to kill before departure and two-dozen hungry Johnnies, the choice was an easy one to make.

It seemed that the stinging from the loss disappeared faster than Head Coach Ian Stone’s strawberry milkshake.

And when Jen Taylor’s leg injury started getting worse, the focus turned to a fallen teammate, a close friend.

If that wasn’t enough to erase defeat, the airport doubles as a mall, and sometimes losing can be forgotten amid the scents of Bath and Body Works and the fashions of Nine West.

Waiting to take off, laptop keys clicked as papers were written, phone calls were made about when they expected to arrive back home and the overall boredom of a long trip home was beginning to set in.

Players took turns snapping candids with a digital camera, while a baby with a mullet turned an entire corner of the waiting area into a laugh track.

The plane descended into Newark, and just as before – sleep, music and homework passed the time.

Although homework seemed to take a back seat to those who fell asleep listening to music.

A bus ride to campus was the final leg of the journey, three days of travel having come to an end with the announcement of “Meeting, 4:00 Wednesday afternoon.”

As with any trip of this close-knit group, there was only good, except for a two-hour period on Sunday afternoon.

Winning can make a long trip seem to fly by, while losing can make it drag on endlessly.

But that is only the case if you allow it to happen.

“It’s disappointing,” said senior co-captain Joanna Dawson, “but if everyone comes off the field saying they tried their hardest then there’s nothing more that we can ask for.”

There’s nothing more that anyone can ask.

Jason Della Rosa is a senior journalism major who is very appreciative of both women’s soccer Head Coach Ian Stone and the entire squad for allowing him to travel with the team. Send comments to [email protected]