Nov. 3, 2012
By Bob Socci
Two buses pulled up alongside the Glenn Warner Soccer Facility.
A pair of Colgate players loaded their bags inside the cargo bay of the lead bus. They were readying to leave for the night, though they weren’t going anywhere. The second was waiting on the American Eagles. They were about to leave for D.C., driving into the offseason.
Around the corner, across from the Wesley Brown Fieldhouse, sailboats were tied to their moorings in the Santee Basin. One after the other, they were rocked gently by a cold wind off the Chesapeake stirring the Severn. “Renaissance.” “Tenacious.” “Invincible...”
As Midshipmen passed, crossing paths on the run, wearing their standard-issue gray hoodies, it seemed no different than any other year; at the end of a week to begin November. Games were being played, Mids came and went.
On this Friday, the games going on were the Patriot League women’s soccer semifinals. As regular season champion, the Naval Academy was the tournament’s host. In less than two hours, the Mids would face Lehigh. The winner would get Colgate. The second-seed Raiders had just easily defeated AU, 3-0. They were sticking around until Sunday’s final.
At least in the eyes of this visitor making his way around The Yard on foot, one plodding stride at a time, everything around the Academy appeared normal. However, reminders of what the start of the week was like, and what could have been at the end of the week, awaited my return indoors on the television news.
Not too up far up the Atlantic coast, in New Jersey and New York, there were scenes and sounds of devastation and desperation. Hundreds of thousands were left without power, water, food and gasoline. Only because they were so unfortunate as to stand in the way of Hurricane Sandy.
Many lost property. Tragically, incomprehensibly, in places like the Rockaways or Mantoloking, they lost all of it -- everything but the memories.
Sadder still, some lost more. Early Friday evening, the accounting of deaths caused by Sandy was incomplete. Even locally, families mourned the worst loss of all. In Annapolis, a 50-year old removing debris from the storm was killed by a falling tree. Nearby, a 74-year-old retiree died under a tree that collapsed his one-story ranch.
By late Friday night, after days of national and local debate, officials finally heeded the overwhelming call to cancel Sunday’s New York City Marathon. Life will go on. Sensibly, at least this Sunday, the race scheduled to start on Staten Island -- the so-called “forgotten borough,” where more lives have been lost than any other part of the City -- does not.
Here in Annapolis, as in the part of Massachusetts where I spent every other day this week, we are the lucky ones.
On Monday and Tuesday, Academy classes were canceled, those sailboats were pulled from water in favor of safer ground and Mids mostly stayed inside, insulated from rain and wind by the walls of Bancroft Hall.
Thankfully, as Sandy spun northward, there was no significant damage reported at the Academy in her wake. There were some inconveniences. Athletic teams had practice schedules adjusted. Men’s soccer had to wait an extra day to beat Howard. Those inconveniences were minor. It’s all relative.
I spoke to several Mids early this week, during their unscheduled down time. On Monday, Matt Aiken, a junior wide receiver on the football team, played a few video games between hitting the weights and hitting the books. At the time, he was unaware that his brother, a long snapper for the New England Patriots, had landed with the team at Boston’s Logan Airport, following a game in London. Theirs was one of the few planes to leave Heathrow for the States.
The following day, Aiken’s teammate Geoffrey Whiteside, a sophomore slot back majoring in systems engineering, spoke during a break from studying. No football practice allowed for extra time preparing for three tests scheduled for Wednesday alone.
Meanwhile, in another part of Bancroft, Elizabeth Hoerner, a junior goalie on the women’s soccer team and Dean’s List student, enjoyed some rare extra rest.
“We’ve been able to get some good training sessions in, “ Hoerner said Tuesday morning. “This is a scheduled exam week here at the Naval Academy, but coaches told us right after the Bucknell game (Saturday) that we need to get ahead on our work and prepare well by getting a lot of sleep. Hopefully, with the delay in classes, our team can get a lot of sleep, nail our exams and be prepared by Friday, mentally and physically, ready to go.
“The number one thing for us is academics. As long as we get our exams done and do well on those, I think we’ll be ready by Friday. No matter what happens, we’re good at adjusting.”
As it turns out, Hoerner was right. Her Mids were ready by Friday.
After Colgate packed up and American headed out, Navy met Lehigh in the second soccer semifinal. Tied at 1-1, the Mids broke free in the second half for a 4-1 win. Paloma Perez netted a hat trick, scoring all but one of Navy’s goals to set up a 2 p.m. showdown on Sunday to determine the Patriot League’s rep in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
Meanwhile, Aiken and Whiteside were with the rest of their teammates in a local hotel, partaking in their usual pre-game routine on the eve of Saturday’s home encounter with Florida Atlantic. With victory, which would be a fifth in a row, their Mids would mark a return to the postseason as well. They missed out on a bowl game last year, but this weekend have a chance to go back to life as we knew it each of the previous eight seasons.
Win or lose, the mere facts that Hoerner and company still have the chance to finish first and that Aiken, Whiteside et al can achieve one of their main goals are things to be thankful for.
Lest we forget, we need only think of what could have been. And what is, not so far to our north.