Quest for another "Hotel California", Spartans get ready for Georgetown
By Rob Daniels
UNCGSpartans.com staff writer
GREENSBORO, N.C. – They have successfully butchered “Hotel California” again. Now the UNCG men’s soccer team hopes the victory-happy crooning has pleasantly familiar results.
Not that they have much time to sing. Or practice, for that matter.
A day after winning the Southern Conference championship, the Spartans were rewarded with a first-round NCAA tournament game at Georgetown at 1 p.m. Thursday. It’s their 10th appearance in their 20 Division I seasons, and they hope to equal or surpass their recent performances, the past four of which have resulted in trips to the final 16.
“We’re proud, but we ain’t done yet,” midfielder Fannar Arnarsson said. “That’s one of the best qualities of this team: not to be arrogant but to be confident in ourselves.”
Arnarsson’s countryman, Jokull Elisabetarson, presumably believes, too. Two years ago, he commandeered the microphone on the team bus following the conference tournament and insisted on “singing” the Eagles’ signature tune. If offensive to the ear, it was at least a good-luck charm. The Spartans upset Duke and ninth-seeded Loyola (Md.) and were leading South Florida in the 86th minute before falling in penalty kicks.
En route back from Mount Pleasant, S.C., on Sunday night, they called Elisabetarson – it was midnight in Iceland – and serenaded him. They haven’t lost since Oct. 2.
“We’re on an 11-game unbeaten streak, so we’re obviously doing something right,” defender Aaron Reifschneider said.
The origin of the song selection is uncertain. Coach Justin Maullin said its repetition is unrelated to the fact that the NCAA College Cup, soccer’s version of the Final Four, is in Santa Barbara, Calif.
The Spartans gathered in the loft at Natty Greene’s in downtown Greensboro to watch their draw revealed on ESPNU. They had to wait only six minutes into a 30-minute program to get the official word.
Success didn’t come automatically to this club, which began 4-5-1 before Maullin’s starting rotation and substitution patterns started clicking. They entered the league tournament presuming they’d need to win it in order to make the NCAA field, and they prevailed over Appalachian State and Furman over the weekend.
“A bit of luck, but hard work brings luck,” Maullin said. “I’m a firm believer that you make your own luck. To win championships is very difficult. Obviously, you need talent. We have talent. But you need more than that. You need team chemistry.”
Now they need planning skills. The Spartans are accustomed to playing during the week, but those contests are almost always at night. They took Monday to recuperate from the conference tournament, and they’ll bend the routine further in order to practice at the competition site. The Spartans will get on the bus at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday and are scheduled to work out that afternoon.
Maullin said several players are nursing minor injuries and that he’s severely tempted to cut back on the workouts even though the season’s most important game is on the horizon. Then again, maybe not.
“Sometimes, less is more,” he said, “but when we do less, they want more. One of our team goals was for players to do extra work. And they love to do extra work.”
Georgetown, by contrast, will be well rested. The Hoyas (11-6-1) haven’t played since a Big East tournament loss to Providence on Nov . 6.
UNCG is not likely to fear the conference affiliation of Thursday’s opponent. The Spartans won at West Virginia in 2006 and nearly dispatched South Florida two years later, and the program is 3-0 against the Hoyas in its history. Thursday’s winner plays at North Carolina, the tournament’s fourth seed, on Sunday.
“Now it becomes more of a mental game,” Reifschneider said. “It’s cool to see your school’s name on ESPN, but it didn’t matter to us when we played or where we played.”