Commentary: August potential energizes season
Sophomore tailback Mikal Abdul-Saboor walked into the press conference and took the seat farthest from the camera and reporters. Abdul-Saboor’s 215-pound frame slumped in the chair, discouraged and sore.
Towson had just finished off a 15-9 win over William and Mary in a game of nationally ranked conference foes. Despite his 105-yard performance, Abdul-Saboor didn’t say a word. No one dared ask a question, anyway.
Abdul-Saboor took the first opportunity to leave, dipping under head coach Jimmye Laycock’s dead stare.
Something about Abdul-Saboor in that moment captured so much of what was the fall sports season. Disappointment on the heels of incredible potential, left as dry and apparent as the letter Bob Hale ’49 penned following the New Hampshire football game in November.
“There were twice as many New Hampshire fans as there were William and Mary students at the football game Saturday. What a disgraceful display of support for the Tribe football team!!! SHAME!!!!” Hale wrote to The Flat Hat.
Or maybe redshirt freshman goalkeeper Mac Phillips embodied that feeling more aptly, lying completely and utterly still, collapsed on the field at Martin Family Stadium. George Mason had just pulled out an upset win, in penalty kicks, in the first round of the National Collegiate Athletic Association College Cup.
No one approached Phillips. While the Patriots stormed the field and College fans filed down the aluminum stairs, Phillips didn’t move. It wasn’t until moments later that Phillips slowly, ever so slowly, rose to return to the bench.
Something there, too, spoke of the fall season. But there was more: frustration countered with exultation.
There was Randy Hawthorne, president of the Spiked Shoe Society of William and Mary, and an impassioned note slid under The Flat Hat office door, hoping the women’s cross country team would be so good that The Flat Hat Sports Desk would be forced to cover it.
Hawthorne was right. Sophomore Emily Stites won the NCAA Southeast Regional Championship and broke a course record previously set by an Olympian in the process, calling it all “a nice surprise.”
Senior Elaina Balouris was next, crossing the line at the NCAA Championship meet to finish 11th in the nation. In the nation. Watching Balouris come across on the live-feed video — there was something else of the fall season.
Somewhere between the high of three nationally ranked programs and the lows of head coach John Daly falling short of the Colonial Athletic Association Championship lies the fall season. Unparalleled joy in upsetting the nation’s best (here’s to you, men’s soccer and field hockey) juxtaposed against the crash of a hopeful finish (the volleyball program dropped its final four games).
There were the quirks, too. Junior Alex Hicks knocked in the third ever hole-in-one in program history. That’s hitting a golf ball into a hole that measures four and a quarter inches in diameter from 170 yards.
There was some of the same. The doubles team — seniors Maria Belaya and Jeltje Loomans — continued their string of phenomenal success. While nationally ranked programs stole headlines, Belaya and Loomans quietly rose to the seventh-best doubles team in the nation.
Belaya, ranked No. 99 nationally, took down players well above her in the rankings. Through it all, Belaya and Loomans still had time to take to Busch Field, tossing around a Frisbee with the team after practice.
Something of a blurry sun setting low over the west end of Albert-Daly Field in late August told of the season too. The lights flickered on and the coaches paced constantly as Tribe soccer prepped for its season opener. A nervous potential filled the air alongside cheap popcorn and the ever-present humidity.
There, and at Zable Stadium and at the Rec Center pool and at Kaplan Arena, the potential hung until the bitter loss at Richmond ended Laycock’s schedule and closed out the fall season for every program.
Abdul-Saboor collapsed in a chair. Phillips unable, unwilling, to move. Balouris striding across the line. Belaya and Loomans perfecting the Frisbee toss. From bitter disappointment to celebrations, the fall season proved the best and worst of the tantalizing potential that comes every August.
Now, as Kaplan Arena opens its doors to juniors Marcus Thornton and Kyla Kerstetter and the winter season, the same potential lingers.