Bundle up -- this College Cup's a cold one

December, 3, 2009
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- By the time Notre Dame took the field for the fourth and final practice Thursday at the Aggie Soccer Complex, the wind had calmed and the sun had turned its unfettered access to the sky into something approximating warmth.

Hopefully all involved enjoyed it while it lasted.

Friday's forecast in College Station calls for temperatures never reaching 40 degrees, with a strong possibility of snow showers and sleet in the afternoon (clearing by about the time of the second women's national semifinal, between North Carolina and Notre Dame).

During the morning's chilly but dry proceedings, UCLA coach Jillian Ellis joked about her team packing its thermals for this trip. Stanford's Ali Riley gave thanks for the warmth of the interview room and teammate Kelley O'Hara plopped down on the carpet to stretch, rather than venture outside.

But comedic overtones aside, the weather could be the only new entrant in the Women's College Cup this year (although it was getting close to frigid in Cary, N.C., last year, it was at least dry). As she guided her team through some light work on the field, Ellis warned that certain passes that might otherwise be delivered aerially would have to be made on the ground with force if the field was slick.

It's one intriguing variable for coaches who know each other extremely well.

"If its incredibly slick, you've got to be a bit more conservative in your supporting distance," North Carolina coach Anson Dorrance explained. "You've got to be a bit more conservative in the goal, you've got to be a bit more careful basically clearing the ball. So all the elements of a slick surface are brought to bear. … I think there are going to be some adjustments being made based on the conditions on Friday."

And at least one team might not even mind a little taste of home-field advantage.

"Come on snow; bring the snow," Notre Dame coach Randy Waldrum deadpanned. "Just pound us tomorrow; we're OK with that, absolutely."

• North Carolina didn't maintain dominant form in those early wins against UCLA and Notre Dame -- but considering who the Tar Heels played without, the relative ease with which they still made it to yet another College Cup may be more impressive.

A player who Dorrance has repeatedly called one of the best leaders he's ever had -- a bold suggestion he reiterated Thursday -- Ali Hawkins is almost as a good a talent as a leader. She missed the team's regular-season finale, three games in the ACC tournament and the first three rounds of the NCAA tournament with a sprained knee but returned to play 28 minutes off the bench against Wake Forest last weekend.

"If the season were a couple of weeks longer, I think we'd get her back to 100 percent," Dorrance said. "But she did some great things in practice this week.

"It's really interesting -- I've been using her as a role model for our focus and finishing. She's just a very focused individual."

• Stanford coach Paul Ratcliffe is a man of few words.

It could be said that he makes Bill Belichick look loquacious.

It could be said he make haikus look longwinded.

You get the picture. This is the entirety of his opening statement Thursday.

"We're excited to be back to the final four, and we're looking forward to strong competition."

Fascinating. But Ratcliffe, who is generally no more forthcoming with praise, made a rather bold statement -- briefly, of course -- by saying senior Kelley O'Hara is the best player in women's college soccer at the moment. By his standards, it was a stunner.

O'Hara's reaction to the effusive (and accurate) plaudits? She said she gave him five dollars before they got to the podium to say something nice about her.

Graham Hays covers college sports for espnW, including softball and soccer. Hays began with ESPN in 1999.



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