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Commentary Aug 25, 2015

Howard women rout Hampton: Division I, not something to rush into

WendyLeBolt-HeaderSo you want to play Division I soccer?

The Hampton University Pirates would love some more players. They have only been able to field 12 for each of their first two matches.

On Sunday, they fell to the Howard University Lady Bison, 17-0, after a 16-1 drubbing at the hands of Canisius College on Friday. (Here’s your Where is THAT? Button.) After two games, the Lady Pirates have a -33 goal differential with a cumulative shots disadvantage of 214 -2.

What do you say at halftime to a team going through this?

“Well, halftime against Howard was pretty easy,” Hampton coach John McNabb told me this week. “We only gave up 5 points in the first half. Much better than the nine we gave up to Canisius [in the first half of the season opener].”

Well, that’s certainly putting a positive spin on things. And the Pirates may need a lot of that in their inaugural season competing as an NCAA Division I program.

Hampton University President Dr. William R. Harvey is game.

“My congratulations to the young ladies and Coach McNabb on our inaugural road soccer match,” he said after the loss to Howard. “Even though the final score was one-sided, I want them and our fans to know once again how proud I am of their effort.”

+READ: LeBolt: Five ways to ruin preseason soccer training

I doubt President Harvey was in attendance to root on the dozen young ladies as they played their inaugural “home” match at Christopher Newport’s field, about a 15-minute bus trip from campus, because the practice field on the Hampton campus — which they share with the football team and the track squad — is too small to qualify as a regulation soccer pitch. Sunday’s match against Howard was the first game of a road trip which will last all season.

McNabb_John - Hamptom“Most DI programs have 10 subs on the bench,” McNabb laments. He hopes they can come close to that as the season progresses. Currently there are 17 players listed on the official roster, the core of whom are invitees from the two-year-old club soccer program morphed into a DI team and supplemented by freshman “walk-ins,” as McNabb puts it.

He hasn’t had much time to recruit since his appointment as head coach in May of 2015, a promotion from his status as head club coach. Even though they are DI, McNabb doesn’t yet have any scholarships to offer, though he has been told they will be funded.

“The schedule for this ‘has not been determined,’” he said.

From appearances, it might have been good to keep this group at the club level a bit longer before throwing them to the wolves. McNabb admits his surprise that things happened so quickly, calling it an “all-out sprint.”

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Howard girlsTheir opponents from Howard, on the other hand, were fresh off a championship season, going 13-9-1 to win the regular season and tournament championship in the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC).

Two very different programs, so why would they play?

“There’s a big rivalry between the two schools, the competition called the ‘Battle of Real HU,’”  Howard coach Brent Leiba, now in his seventh year with the program, tells me.

It’s competitive across the other sports, and now women’s soccer will enter the fray. So there were some bragging rights at stake, but the bragging was settled pretty early in this one.

“There’s no mercy rule in college soccer,” says Leiba, so after five goals in the first half and a barrage of goals shortly after halftime, he sat his starters, giving him a chance to evaluate his entire depth. As the game progressed, they went to 10 players and then nine.

Brent Leiba - Howard“After that we just possessed the ball. But, what’s really more demoralizing? Keepaway or keep shooting?”

Hampton’s McNabb agreed it was sporting, in spite of the scoreline. Players had been instructed not to keep shooting, though some “didn’t get the message” with additional scores coming in the 82nd and 89th minutes.

McNabb, actually is grateful they were able to get any games this season given their late start. Entering as a Division I program in the Mideastern Athletic Conference, which doesn’t include soccer among its sports, they are competing as “independents.” This meant that beginning in May, McNabb was scavenging for games.

With Tuesday’s game, on the road (of course) against VMI, that will make three games in five days for the opening of the Lady Pirates’ first year in D1.

Since May, McNabb has been putting in 12-our days, split half and half between physics research and soccer practices, game scheduling and recruiting. He doesn’t downplay the level of challenge this team has ahead and tries to keep things realistic, while building on the team culture begun with the club team with a “marvelous bunch of ladies” who took it upon themselves to petition for a varsity squad.

+READ: Five ways to develop soccer players during a blowout without disrespecting opponents

I’m not sure they knew what they were in for.

The lesson for me: when I see a lopsided score line, maybe hold off a bit before hitting the unsportsmanlike buzzer.

It just may be that one team has a new program, which in its haste, isn’t quite organized, doesn’t yet have all its players rostered, got its uniforms in the nick of time, has injuries and academic eligibility issues to resolve, has no money for scholarships, doesn’t have a home field to play on and has to share their practice field with the football team…for crying out loud.

I hear it said often that ‘if you want to play D1, there’s a program out there for you.’ If you’re willing to play at all costs, just for the love of the game, they may just be right.

Not a participation trophy in sight.

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