SPORTS

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May 15, 2009

End of the Bench: NCAAs no time for patience

I hear patience is a virtue.My mom always tried to teach that to me when we were waiting in line at the grocery store.“Now Jake,” she would say. “Patience is a virtue. You’ll never get anywhere without it.”“I know,” I would say. “But I don’t have it.”While I don’t think those long waits in line at Jewel really helped all that much with the whole make-Jake-a-good-person thing, I have definitely learned how valuable it is for sports fans.It’s the only thing that gives any longevity to a person’s fandom, and having even a little is the only way to survive the continual disappointment that goes with cheering for any team. The problem, though, is that even as a sports fan, I just don’t have any.I want my teams to be good right now. I want them to win today, and tomorrow, and the next day, and I want them to continue winning until they have a championship. And then I want them to continue winning.It’s greedy, I know, and I guess I should be ashamed for being such an impatient glutton. But as women’s tennis goes into the Elite Eight next week, I really just want one simple thing, just one itty-bitty, teeny-tiny request: an NCAA Championship.(Here’s the part where I get that sheepish I-just-asked-my-parents-for-400-dollars-to-buy-N*Sync-tickets look on my face.)Is it greedy to want an NCAA title?I feel greedy. I feel guilty. I feel like I should be happy with what I have.And I definitely am happy with this year’s women’s tennis team. I’m only a second-year, and before this season, I had grown accustomed to a couple of established facts in the UAA: Wash U wins enough in every sport to merit hatred (sports hatred, of course), and Emory is the gold standard of UAA tennis. Just look at their history: NCAA Championships in 1996, 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006. That means that the graduates of 2006 had the opportunity to enjoy an absolute Renaissance in women’s tennis, an era of good feelings that brought home four straight titles. That’s infinitely more than Chicago has won in any sport. Ever.Enter the 2009 University of Chicago women’s tennis team. It’s a nearly perfect team. They’ve got youth, they’ve got leadership, they’ve got poise, and they’ve got talent.For me, the two losses to Emory just make this week more exciting because, after a couple of incredibly close matches already this season, there’s Emory sitting on the other side of the bracket. A rematch to the rematch could be in the cards in the third-place match if both teams play to seed; then again, I don’t think supporters on either side would be happy with that when the NCAA title game is so close.In some ways, it’s great to be in the UAA. This is an undeniably phenomenal conference for both academics and athletics, and the competition is fierce. But I don’t really like having to appreciate competition instead of celebrating victory. Just look at the top of the conference. The Bears two-peated in men’s basketball earlier this season, so that makes 16 NCAA titles for them. I’m probably past the point of sounding like a bitter sports fan with an inferiority complex (probably accurate, as it turns out), but I don’t like the fact that Wash U has a full trophy case while Chicago’s is nonexistent.So if I ask for just one, is that bad?There are some teams where a best-case scenario falls well short of a national championship. I know that; it’s just not possible for every team every year.But if we’re talking about this women’s tennis team, a squad whose worst-case scenario still means a trip to the quarterfinals, a discussion of best-case scenarios has to mean looking at a title game match.Can Chicago beat Carnegie? I’d keep it a short “yes” if Carnegie weren’t so similar to Chicago down the lineup and if the Tartans hadn’t beaten Emory earlier this season, but there’s no doubt that on a good day, the Maroons can win that match. Can Chicago beat Amherst or Williams? With a team as determinedly short-sighted as this, we’d be getting too far ahead of ourselves trying to think ahead to Wednesday or Thursday. But I just have to think the answer is at least “maybe.” And if they draw Emory? We’ll be in for a good one.This team is just too good to settle. They’re too good, and they’re too close to the championship, to be happy with the quarterfinals. If it all ends on Tuesday against Carnegie, we’ll all look back on this season as a success, and we’ll all be happy when they come back strong next season. We’ll all go home and try to have the virtue of patience, try to think of things in the long term, try to remember that there’s always next year.But I never claimed to be a virtuous man, much less a virtuous sports fan, and I don’t want to wait longer than next week.