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MEMPHIS SPORTS SCENE

MEMPHIS SPORTS SCENE

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The football coach at my high school didn’t understand soccer so well. He said that “soccer players are frustrated athletes. They’re athletes but frustrated ones.” I, of course, didn’t argue (I was 14) but I felt like I should have. Not because I was some soccer star. I was the slow and oft-injured fullback who couldn’t last an entire season before turf toe or busted shin or bad back sent him to the sidelines. In other words, I was a wimp. But my fellow soccer players were not wimps. In fact they were 13 of the toughest kids I knew. I can say that our little single A school (the smallest variety, back when TSSAA still had those ratings) played every other school in the city, including squads that dropped more people on the first day of try-outs than we had in our school. Let’s just say that the Commercial Appeal would only print the first-half score of our games to save us the embarrassment. Because while our opponents’ scores typically doubled from the first-half total, our score would double from zero. For those math whizzes out there, that equals zero. Still, there’s no bitterness here, and it’s for the exact reason opposite of the unnamed football coach. These players were amazing. And it was fun to watch them. My seat was really quite good. When I wasn’t on the sideline, I was the one staring dumbly at the nearly mythic displays of grace and skill as a trained striker pounded the ball with ferocious finesse and beautiful joy. Granted, as a defender I should have tried to stop the display. But, hey, I was destined to write about sports. My real job is to chronicle these moments. Not impede them. I did get in the way of the offense of some opponents but only rarely and with some luck. Then there was a shrug and a shake from my opponent and I was left behind, watching in the wake of the movement as my opponent, light and lithe, would strike deadly again at my goal, making another. The whole thing had a certain rightness about it. Who was I to stop it? Other defenders-- of course-- don’t feel this way. In fact, it takes a certain sort of pride and courage to place oneself in front of the blazing speed and power of a well-kicked soccer ball. And placing one’s body on the line in the name of saving a goal is heroic. There’s no need to tell that to the Germantown Women’s soccer team. The squad lost its two starting forwards (strikers) to heel and ankle injuries, leaving the offense in a bind. The squad, which won the TSSAA championship in 1994 and the National Championship in 1999, looked at its more than tough schedule and figured it had only one option for the season: Win. And the squad has. 18 games later, the team has lost only two and tied three, piling up a bunch of wins in the process. Germantown coach Thomas Klingenberg says that that wasn’t so much of a focus. “We just practice very hard,” he says. “We don’t push wins and losses. We just teach soccer.” Klingenberg says that is why the team plays such a heavy schedule. But that hasn’t fazed this team as it gears up for yet another trip to the TSSAA state tourney. The feat is remarkable not only in that the squad lost two starters but lost all but one of its starters just one year ago. The National Championship team featured 13 seniors. “It’s frustrating,” Klingenberg said, “[the championship] put a lot of pressure on [the players]. This year, we found our identity again.” Germantown is back in the hunt for a championship after shutting down Cordova and Shelby County goal leader Lindsay Estes, 1-0 in order to get to the state championship tournament. “Our defense has really stepped up in the last couple of games,” Klingenberg says. The squad goes on to Chattanooga now to face Tullahoma for the first round of play and, if Germantown wins, the reward is the winner of the Franklin/Bearden match-up. “That’s going to be a game,” Klingenberg says. Franklin won the title last year and Bearden makes up one of Germantown’s losses this season. So here’s to the ladies of Germantown and their quest to win the title. Let football coaches have their limited understanding of all sports not football and just enjoy the game of soccer for what it is: the poetry of a perfect loft pass combined with the jaw-breaking velocity of a well-kicked ball. The game is good. The players are definitely athletes. And frustration? That only happens when a lump of a defender like me gets in the way. OTHER STUFF
  • What is Lou Holtz thinking? His South Carolina Gamecocks lose, 10-7, to the Arkansas Razorbacks at Fayetteville and Holtz blames crowd noise? In a recent press conference, as reported by Brett Jensen, Scripps Howard News Service, the coach said that the rowdy crowd of 55,000 Hog faithful screamed too loud and that cost his team the game. Why? The offensive and defensive units couldn’t hear the plays called, that’s why. Of course, things only get worse for the eldest Gamecock as he and his team visit Knoxville to take on Tennessee with its 104,709-seat Neyland Stadium. "That is totally unfair.” Holtz said, according to Jensen’s article. “But I feel quite certain that the officials will give us that opportunity to call our plays and snap the ball." On the one hand, I can understand Holtz’s frustration of home field advantage. At the same time, football ain’t a chess match. Well, not one in which people are quiet anyway. But more importantly, Holtz just gave locker room material for the waves of Big Orange followers for game day. Does he honestly believe that the refs can keep the crowd quiet? After his comments about hating noise? That’s like poking the collective in the eye with a sharp stick and expecting each member to quietly bow and leave. That game is on October 27th on ESPN2 at 6:55(CT).
  • Well, the Grizzlies seem to be showing a different side to opponents on the road. After reeling off four wins at home, the Grizzlies have lost their last two. Granted, those two teams are Phoenix and the L.A. Lakers, two of the best teams in the West. Still, the situation looks to be grim for the squad on the road and considerably brighter at home. Still, a good home record (say, 25 wins out of 42) and a less than embarrassing road record (10 games? 15?) would place the team far and above expectations. And even that much faith in the home crowd means little until November 1st, when the Grizzlies start things up against the Pistons, luckily at home.

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