November 29, 2005

Bleeding Maroon: Riding with this team worth every penny

It’s funny when people refer to a team as their team, even though they have no direct input, no position, no real affiliation to speak of. It represents a step to the next level, an indicator of the transformation of one’s interest from healthy to borderline obsessive. When you start calling a team your team, you are undeniably hooked.

For these past four seasons, Chicago women’s soccer has been that team for me. And it has been both a joyous and heartbreaking thing to deeply care about this team–my team. Coming to the University of Chicago in the fall of 2002, I was ready to cheer for Maroons athletics. I had little idea what to expect, but my eagerness to participate was undeniable.

It’s been a wild emotional ride these four years. On the one hand, I got to see four straight NCAA tournament bids, two Final Four appearances, 65 total wins, a Division III Player of the Year Award, and many other accomplishments too numerous to list. On the other hand, I suffered through heartbreaking losses in the Final Four, frustrating injuries, and the seasons inevitably passing by.

Rooting for any team this intensely is empowering and crushing at the same time. The unrestrained joy of a perfect goal and the deep sense of pride found in a hard-fought win are the reasons we cheer. But the futility of watching on the sideline, the feelings of emptiness after an overtime winner against you are hard reminders of the potential agony inherent in sports.

This weekend, the Maroons lost to Messiah College in overtime in the Final Four, their third straight tournament loss to the eventual national champion. As a fan, it was a tough defeat to swallow, particularly since it was the last one I would witness.

For those of us who traveled to North Carolina this Thanksgiving break to watch the team, the event encapsulated what being a fan has meant over the past four years. We experienced the camaraderie of cheering together, the anticipation of the game, the ups and downs, and the eventual outcome.

As I watched the game with the brother of one of our players, we went through the entire spectrum of emotions over the 90-plus minutes. We yelled in frustration when Messiah scored a suspect goal with 16 seconds left in the first half. We jumped for joy and hugged when Chicago tied the game. We paced, cringed, shouted, leapt, and growled our way through the whole game. And when the final goal was scored, we sat on the ground wordlessly for 10 minutes.

I am going to profoundly miss rooting for the women’s soccer team and attending its games. Yet the importance of this team to me is comforting even now, despite the abrupt end of its season.

Ultimately the joy always outweighs the heartbreak. I’ll have the experience of being a fan forever. Some of the most exciting moments I have witnessed as a sports fan have been because of Chicago women’s soccer.

I’d like to take this opportunity to say thank you to this team, especially to the graduating seniors. You have accomplished so much and created so many moments that we, as fans, can appreciate. Your achievements of the past four years have established you high in the pantheon of great University of Chicago sports teams, and I am both glad and proud that for these four years I was lucky enough to call you my team.