Hello everyone, my name is Jon Nolan and I work in the VCU Athletic Communications office. I am the men's soccer contact and had the opportunity to make the trek to Conway, S.C. for the 2011 Coastal Carolina Tournament with the VCU Men's Soccer team.
As the team was walking out for practice this afternoon (Thursday), I started having conversation with junior midfielder Joseph Haboush. Joseph was asking me about some of the details of my job, and said "are you going to do a blog about the trip?" So right then and there thanks to Joseph, I decided I would do a blog and give an insider's perspective on the trip.
Thursday – Sept. 8
The bus was leaving at 9 a.m., so I arrived a little bit early. With that I got the chance to pick my seat and introduce myself to our bus driver for the weekend, John.
Volunteer Assistant Coach Matt Cannady takes one last head count before we depart, making sure that everyone is aboard.
It is about a six-hour trip from Richmond to Conway, so we have plenty of time for activities on the bus. Some of the guys have already opened up their laptops to complete some homework courtesy of the wireless router on the bus. Most of the other guys are picking up some extra sleep time or watching our first movie of the day, The Book of Eli.
We stopped for lunch at a Chipotle in Fayetteville, N.C. The guys seemed pretty content with their choices. I am sure that junior midfielder Juan Arbelaez and freshman defender Juan Monge Solano were happy, because last week they told me Chipotle is one of their favorite places to eat in Richmond.
Everyone boarded the bus again, with Matt taking another head count. We noticed that freshman forward Kharlton Belmar was the last player inside the restaurant. It wasn't hard to figure out that Kharlton was the last remaining player inside, because while waiting in line he had his hands full with his computer, phone and charger for each. Sophomore defender Garrett Harvey confirmed that he saw Kharlton camped out in a corner of the restaurant charging his phone and computer.
Once the bus started rolling, a new movie was presented from the back of the bus. The guys picked, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. It was an interesting movie and I was glad to see that Charlie Sheen made an appearance in the sequel.
We pulled up the hotel around 4 p.m. Every one took a quick tour of the rooms, because we had to back on the bus at 4:45 to depart for practice.
The Coastal Carolina campus is about a 12-15 minute drive from the hotel. Today's session took place on a field that appeared to be a practice field for the Coastal Football and Soccer teams. It was in pretty good condition and the sun was shining.
After about a 10 minute warm-up, the guys broke into a competitive game of 10 vs. 10. The players were situated in a box 16 yards by 16 yards, with a goal on each side of the box designated by a pair of cones about three yards apart. Today's game featured the yellow team vs. the orange team; the orange team broke out to an early lead, before a spirited comeback from the yellow team to earn the 10-9 victory.
Players from both sides were upset with the officiating of assistant coach Ryan Pratt. There is a slight chance Coach Pratt could miss tomorrow's game as he is going to be deposed by FIFA executives in Zurich, Switzerland (only kidding).
Practice ended with some competitive shooting drills. The team was split into three groups: forwards, midfielders and defenders. The defenders won, and from what I can tell it was the first time the defense has won this particular shooting drill this season.
After practice the team headed back to the hotel. The guys had about 45 minutes to get showered and changed before dinner at 8 p.m down in one of the hotel's meeting rooms. We enjoyed a variety of pastas from the Olive Garden, plus plenty of salad and bread sticks.
I sat with the coaches and other athletic staff members on the trip, plus sophomore midfielder Romena Bowie. At one point during dinner, we looked around the room and noticed how much fun everyone in the room was having. Every few seconds a big roar of laughter would break out from one of the room's four tables.
Following dinner, there was a short team meeting to go over preparations for tomorrow's game against University of South Carolina-Upstate. Coach Giffard talked about remaining focused tonight and tomorrow for the contest against the Spartans, as they are a hardworking and determined squad.
The guys will kickoff tomorrow morning with breakfast, before a quick training session to loosen up over at Coastal Carolina.
Friday – Sept. 9
Breakfast was downstairs in the hotel's restaurant. The coaching staff had the guys come down a couple minutes apart, that way the line would not be too long for the players and the regular guests of the hotel. Senior goalkeeper Josh Pantazelos was one of the first guys in the room, something the coaching staff said he does on all the trips.
Following breakfast the guys went back to their rooms to get ready for today's short practice. On the way down to the bus, we saw the George Washington University Men's Soccer team getting ready to head to practice as well. They are the fourth team in this year's tournament, the one will we won't play. In addition the GW and VCU soccer teams, the Bradley University Women's Volleyball team is also in the hotel.
Today's practice session was primarily just to get the guy loose. The team went through about 20 minutes, before moving onto some group passing drills.
The one thing I have noticed about the team's practices, the coaches do a great job of mixing in competitive games into the drills. It really gets the guys energized and provides some healthy trash talking between teammates.
The team closed out practice with a game. This the second time I have watched the team play this, with the first being on game-day at Georgetown. All the players stand in a circle with one soccer ball. The ball will be played in the air to one player; that player then has one touch with to successfully pass the ball to a teammate, allowing the process to continue. Coach Giffard added another wrinkle to the game, making each player name a different country while passing the ball. A player is removed from the game for making a bad pass or saying a country that has already been called out.
It's a fun event to watch, as all the guys want to win. Today's final was between freshman defender Juan Monge Solano and freshman midfielder Ragnar Leosson. Monge Solano won the event after shouting out Cameroon while passing to Leosson, who couldn't think of another country to use.
That's it for now, I'll try to add another post before today's game. The guys have a pregame meal at 1 p.m. before the team heads over to the field around 4 p.m.
The bus ride over to the bus was a little quiet. The guys were getting focused on the match, with most taking their own approach to getting ready for the match. Most of the guys turn to music, usually putting on some headphones and their personal "pump-up playlist."
I am not going to post too much about the match, because you read the game recap here. The team picked up a 4-0 victory over USC-Upstate team. The team fired off 28 shots in the contest, and allowed on three shots to the Spartans, with all of those shots coming in the final 10 minutes.
The bus ride back to the hotel was nice. The guys were enjoying the victory, but also had their minds on getting ready for Sunday's match against Coastal Carolina.
Dinner tonight was nice, we had some steak and chicken from Outback Steakhouse. The guys seemed happy with the meal, especially sophomore forward Jason Johnson. At dinner on Thursday night Johnson declared his excitement for steak night to the whole team.
After dinner the guys headed back to their rooms. Tonight is the start of the recovery process for the guys, so most of guys seemed ready to hit the hay.
Tomorrow should be an interesting day, a training session is schedule late in the morning, followed by lunch then some downtime for everyone.
Saturday, Sept. 11
The guys got some extra time to sleep in this morning with not a lot of scheduled for today. Breakfast was down in the restaurant today.
Following breakfast the guys headed back to their rooms before practice at noon.
The team boarded the bus and headed back out to the practice fields at Coastal Carolina. Today's session was run by strength and conditioning coach Ryan Horn. After a quick jog around the complex, the guys went through some stretching routines and light running drills.
Practice closed out with the guys playing the game I am calling "around the world." This is the game where the team stands in a circle and when the ball is played to them they have one-touch to successfully pass it on, while also shouting out a country.
Today's final was between senior goalkeeper Josh Pantazelos and sophomore defender Chirag Shah(pictured right), with Chirag winning the contest. There was some controversy afterwards, as some players that they heard Josh say Northern Virginia as a country, but he stated he said Lithuania. Chirag was elated to win the event, even holding a mock press conference with mock reporter/junior forward Yoram Mwila on the way back to the bus.
After a quick post practice lunch at Subway, we arrived back at the hotel. The guys have some downtime right now, most were going to take advantage of it by taking a nap or doing some homework.
Junior goalkeeper Clark Hankins seemed ready for the football game between Penn State University and the University of Alabama. For those that have enjoyed this weekend's blog so, far I have a great announcement to make. Clark is going to serve as a student-athlete blog for the Colonial Athletic Association's website www.wearethecaa.com
I got a chance to talk with Clark about it at lunch today, and he was excited to share his perspective as a student-athlete at VCU.
We had dinner down in the hotel meeting room again, with a variety of pastas, plus salad and breadsticks from Olive Garden. Following dinner, the coaching staff went over the preparations for tomorrow's match against Coastal Carolina. They are a quality team that the coaching staff had the chance to observe last weekend at the VCU Tournament. The Chanticleers are coming off a 2-0 victory over George Washington on Friday.
Sunday – Sept. 11
We had breakfast down in the hotel again, followed by some stretching routines outside of the hotel. I forget to mention in yesterday's update that there was a wedding at the hotel. This morning's stretching session took place in the outside area right next to the altar. It proved for some funny jokes between the teammates, unfortunately I don't have any pictures to share.
The pregame meal was scheduled for 11 a.m. down in the meeting room. The guys enjoyed some food from the Olive Garden again. Today's lunch was a little subdued, as the guys were already preparing on getting focused for today's match.
After lunch the guys had some time to head back up stairs for the final time, get showered and pack their belongings for the trip back following the game.
The team boards the bus to head over to the field. Most of the guys put on their head phones to listen to music on the trip over.
The guys seem very focused for today's match, as Coastal will prove to be a tough squad.
Feel free to check the site afterwards for a game recap, plus I will try and make one last post to wrap up the trip.