Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Michigan vs. Louisville


If anyone has read my blog before, it’s no secret that I am a lifelong athlete. I’ve poured my blood, sweat, and tears into each game that I’ve played, and I know what it’s like to come up just short. The reason I am posting this now is because of the men’s NCAA championship game that was played last night between the University of Michigan and Louisville. I am currently a student at the University of Michigan, and maybe that’s why this loss has hit me harder than any other one that I’ve watched. The boys on the team are my peers, they walk the same streets that I do, and I’ve had classes with and spent time with some of them. For all the hype surrounding them (and other revenue sport athletes), they are still 18 to 22 year olds with so much ahead of them. They are not immortals, though their physical prowess may make it seem that way. The campus put them on a pedestal, and, after achieving a number 1 ranking for the first time since the Fab Five in the early 1990s, we all watched in dismay as they tumbled to the finish of the regular season and through the Big Ten Tournament. Nobody expected them to be the last Big Ten team standing or to come within six points of a national championship, but that’s why they were so invigorating for the Michigan community. People had Michigan losing in the first round because they were reminded of last year, when Michigan, a 4-seed, got knocked out by a 13-seed. This was not last year’s team. They weren’t supposed to handle VCU’s “havoc”, but they did with aplomb. No way could they slay the giant they faced in Kansas and Jeff Withey, and, for 34 minutes, they didn’t, finding themselves down 14 with six minutes to go. But Trey Burke, the pride of Columbus who OSU didn't even recruit, willed them back with a performance for the ages. Florida and Syracuse were both supposed to beat Michigan—but couldn't. This team never did what it was “supposed” to—and they had a chance to shock the world in front of the Fab Five in Atlanta on Monday night. When they didn’t come out with a win, I left with a sinking feeling in my stomach.
Watching Trey Burke walk off the floor for what is probably the final time in a Michigan uniform struck me in a way that I haven’t experienced when I’ve seen a professional team that I cheer for lose an important game. I’ve never been the national player of the year, and I never will be. But I have been that kid walking off the field or the court at the conclusion of a season or a high school career attempting to keep my head up when all I want to do is break down. I watched Nik Statuskas attempt to keep his composure in an interview after the game: he couldn’t, and I didn’t blame him. Watching him, there was no doubt about how badly this team wanted to win the game. As heartbreaking as it was for me to never win a state title in high school, I don’t have the experience of coming within inches of a national championship as a freshman and watching it slip away. This Michigan team was special—because of the players and how much they cared about the team and the ultimate goal. How the 3 freshman, 1 sophomore, and 1 junior starter said they wanted to win for their seniors, guys who only played garbage minutes throughout the season. How Mitch McGary would throw his monstrous frame on the ground after a loose ball if Michigan was up 20 points or down 20 points. How Spike Albrecht, mere inches taller than me, stared down giants and launched 3-pointer after 3-pointer. How a team of underestimated, under-recruited guys put Michigan basketball back on the map. And now, for years to come, it won’t be good enough to just make the tournament like it was when I first stepped on campus. The expectation—and reality—is that Michigan can make the Final Four and compete for a national championship. Today, as it is everyday, it’s great to be a Michigan Wolverine. And 40 minutes last night doesn’t change that. 

Friday, January 4, 2013

Play Like a Girl? Sure I do

Growing up, my parents told me I could do anything I wanted to do. And, after starting Park District soccer at the age of 5, I became hooked on sports. For the majority of my athletic career, I have competed against other girls. Sure, I played pick-up with boys or I threw the baseball with my brothers, but my games were always against my fellow female athletes. That is, until, I entered seventh grade and my school didn't have a softball team. I loved softball, I played it for about ten years before "retiring" in high school, but, since my school didn't have a team, I decided my next best option would be baseball. I didn't think much of it--sure, the baseball team was a boys' team, but girls were allowed on the team, and I figured, "why not?", I can hold my own. I had spent much of my seventh grade year playing basketball at recess against the boys, and I had already heard how they talked about the girls who played baseball with them the year before but couldn't really play. I didn't want to be one of those girls; even though I had never played organized baseball before, I felt that I could compete. After a few weeks, I could see how my softball training separated me from my male teammates who had grown up in Little League. I stood at the front of the batter's box because in softball, we did that in order to catch pitches before they broke in any number of directions. I gripped the ball wrong because I was used to catching and throwing a much larger ball. But, regardless, I held my own. In my first game, I started at shortstop, a position traditionally reserved for one of the more skilled players on the team. I couldn't tell you where I was in the batting order, but I know it was in the top half, suggesting that I could maybe hit too. With my long brown ponytail, there was no hiding that there was clearly a girl at the plate. Sure, I heard jabs around the infield and had pitches thrown at my head, but I shook it off. After all, what could I really do? My proudest moment during that season came during a game against one of our city opponents. We played in a city park where several baseball diamonds were scattered around. As I was walking to the plate, I start hearing jeers about my being a girl, my opponents taunting their own pitcher that he better not let a girl get a hit off him. The first pitch was high and fast, and, in fact, right at my head. I hit the dirt in order not to be knocked upside the head. I got up and stared the pitcher down. He raised his hand in half-apology--I glared back because I knew he was trying to back me off the plate. As I twisted my hands tightly around the knob of the bat, there was nothing more that I wanted to do than rip the next pitch right at his head. He wound up, hurling the ball straight down the middle and I swung with all my might. I clobbered it, miles over the left fielder's head (okay, maybe not miles, but pretty far), and raced around the bases. The left fielder didn't even notice the ball was long gone until I had rounded second base and his team was screaming at him to get the ball. Stupid boy, thinking he didn't even have to pay attention when I was at bat. I touched home plate before the left fielder had even thrown the ball to the cut-off man, and, as I reached the dugout and took off my helmet, the home plate umpire came over. "Young lady," he commented, "that was some hit!" I felt a tremendous swell of pride because I had shown up all the boys--that's not why I played a boys' sport, but I like proving doubters wrong. So whenever I hear someone trying to use "You play ball like a girl!" as an insult, I think back to my 13-year-old self in this moment and realize if knocking a homerun means I play like a girl, then I'll take it.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Play Like These Girls

For those of you who are familiar with my blog, I think it's pretty clear why I named it "Play Like a Girl." I'm not ashamed of my gender, and I consistently write about the strong women whose feats in athletics inspire me. That's not to say that I don't admire male athletes--but considering the inequities in athletics today between men's and women's sports, I'm glad that I had role models like the women I've written about here throughout my athletic pursuits. All three of the women pictured above are professional athletes. They are gold-medal winning Olympians who have reached the pinnacle success in their sports. All are strong, powerful women, and I'm pretty sure a lot of men would say that they wouldn't be ashamed to play a sport like these women. Historically, "you play like a girl!" has been used as an insult. But as women's sports have progressed in the decades since Title IX was passed in 1972, so has the connotation of this meaning. Sure, young boys don't grow up wanting to play soccer like Abby Wambach--but find me many beginning tennis players who don't secretly aspire to hit a serve as hard as Serena Williams. Maybe we will never reach a point where boys aspire to be like these female athletes. Despite this, I've never been ashamed to "play like a girl." I've taken pride in my athletic accomplishments because women like the ones pictured above have shown me the power of accomplishment in sports. 
Champions don't have an advantage over "mere mortals"--they're simply humans who have decided to push through the pain and the discomfort and the tediousness of training in order to achieve what they want. Because if you ever reach the level of Ali, it's clearly worth it.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Just a little inspiration. I've liked this quote since I was in high school, as it was a very common saying for my sports' teams given that I attended a very small private school that was overmatched by many of our larger opponents. This quote, in my opinion, applies to those Cinderella stories we see make deep runs in the NCAA Tournament, or those David vs. Goliath teams who win when every countable odd is stacked against them. It's about heart, and that's something that I try to leave on the field every time I play a game.

Monday, August 20, 2012

An intriguing quote that I found recently. It relates back to one of my earlier posts about a quote discussing how sports is human life in microcosm. This phrase seems to suggest that sports is an accelerated arena in which we achieve great triumph and tragedy. Sports provide a stage for us to expose our hopes and dreams in a few brief hours all while knowing that the ultimate result can lead to devastation and despair.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Preseason

I recently returned to my college for the start of preseason. I don't know what that means to all of you, but to me, it means soreness, sunburns, turf burns, complete loss of sense of time, blood, endless buckets of sweat, and ice baths. Oh, I guess there's also getting to play the sport I love, but that's hard to focus on when you're in the middle of double-days and your coach won't stop yelling. When I hear preseason, one of the first things I think of is fitness testing because for sports like mine, we go to the track before we even set foot on the field. Timed miles, 800s, 400s, etc. with minimal rest in between. It clearly separates who did their workouts over the summer and who didn't. After that, it was off to the field for 2.5 hours of scrimmaging with no substitutes. To say we were exhausted is an understatement. It's also a shock for your body to hit the ground running like that and then shock it into submission with an ice bath in an attempt to recover for 2 sessions tomorrow.