Monday, October 24, 2011

The Agony of Defeat and the Thrill of Victory

Hearing the legendary voice of Jim McKay say "the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat" during the opening montage of ABC's "Wide World of Sports" was an indelible part of my growing up. I don't recall the various scenes that made up the "thrill of victory" part but man-oh-man I can still see Vinko Bokataj - yes, that guy had a name - crash his way down the ski jump to define "the agony of defeat" for a generation of Americans. 

Over the span of about four hours on Sunday I experienced both parts of McKay's words, albeit in reverse. Because of scheduling, two of the teams I work with in this office were scheduled to play back-to-back - women's field hockey at 11 a.m. and women's soccer at 1 p.m. I planned on working field hockey before catching the end of soccer which was admirably covered for me by Amanda Piechowski. 

The great part of this profession is seeing hundreds of games and knowing that any one of them has the chance to be anything but routine. Sometimes you get an upset, sometimes you get a buzzer-beater finish, and sometimes there's an unbelievable highlight. But sometimes it just doesn't go your way.

Sunday, the Aggie women's field hockey team was providing me one of those major upsets. For 69 minutes and 2 seconds it stifled fourteenth-ranked Cal. Thanks to a pair of first-half goals by Emily Mecke, UC Davis enjoyed a 2-0 lead over the Golden Bears. And then they protected it. Each time Cal got an opportunity, they were turned away and it seemed like seniors Kristen Lopez and Sarah Schneider were going to get the best send-off ever.

The Aggie faithful was clearly enjoying it as well. The closer victory seemed, the louder the cheering got. The players seemed to be undaunted by the moment. But in the span of 28 seconds - all in the final minute of regulation - Cal took all of it away by doing what seemed impossible just a few seconds earlier, scoring two goals to tie a game it would eventually win in overtime.

I've seen so many games through the years that it's difficult to get emotionally invested in all of them but I couldn't help but share the Aggies' disappointment afterwards. I felt - I think we all felt - something magical was happening and for nearly 70 minutes it was. Yes, the ending was not what everyone wanted but the disappointment was caused because of the journey to get there. It was UC Davis that put Cal so far back on its heels that desperate times called for desperate measures and the Bears miraculously found a way.

The Aggie field hockey team, which regained varsity status in 2009, has already had some milestone moments; notably getting votes for the national top 20 poll this year despite having more losses than wins. It's a testament to a tough schedule and their competitiveness with that slate of games. Chalk up Sunday to a milestone moment. Yes, it wasn't a win. It can't always be about a win. But it can be about displaying heart and on Sunday that was on full display.

As I walked off the field, computer and printer in arms, leave it to an UC Davis player to thank me for my efforts on Sunday. The Aggies were the ones that needed to be thanked.

Not too far away at Aggie Soccer Field, the women's soccer team was battling UC Santa Barbara in a key Big West match. UC Davis was picked to finish seventh in the conference but has been racking up wins like I rack up calories. Four straight entering Saturday (wins, not calories unless you're counting in the thousands). 

UCSB had lost five of its last six and was at the bottom of the standings but the Gauchos were giving the Aggies - tied for second as of today - all they could handle. UC Davis needed the win. UCSB needed something good to happen. The Aggies got both.

With the match scoreless after more than 80 minutes, overtime seemed the likely destination. Then again defeat could've been just a strange, unpredictable bounce away as well. But, as head coach Maryclaire Robinson said afterwards, patience and discipline won out when Kiele Argente lofted a beautiful ball from the far right corner along the goal line.

From my vantage point atop the cooler holding sodas and water for the staff and officials, I could see Ashley Edwards perfectly positioned near the far post. The ball traveled to Edwards like she was pulling it toward her with a string. It arrived just like it was supposed to and she headed into the goal, setting off an Aggie celebration on the sidelines and in the stands where, yes, members of the field hockey team had come by to cheer.

Rachel Kahn, one of nine seniors playing their last regular-season home game, put the icing on the cake a few minutes later with a goal of her own. UC Davis then finished off the Gauchos, picked up three points in the standings and continued its surprising march through the Big West. (Folks, this team is 11-4-1 and if it ends up hosting a Big West Tournament game next week, you need to find a way to get out to Aggie Soccer Field.)

It was one day and "the thrill of victory... and the agony of defeat" each part of it. Two games and two hard-fought efforts that deserved the same result. But sometimes it's not always about the result, it's about the journey.

- Mike Robles is Assistant Athletics Director for Athletics Communications and while he does not have an extensive field hockey background, believes the penalty corner is one of the most exciting plays in sports. And a soccer ball lofted from the corner that's headed in by an Aggies is pretty exciting too.

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