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Inside the Monarchy-Give Me Five

Courtesy: ODU Athletics
         
Release: September 12, 2012
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Sept. 12, 2012

Monarch Blog

To say Chris Harmon is bow-legged is a big understatement. Harmon looks like he just finished a four-month cattle drive ... on the back of a Brahma bull. He looks like...Aw heck, I could make a run at a boatload of bad, tasteless jokes about bow-legged cowboys and such, but Harmon's heard 'em all. He's heard so many bad bow-legged references that he's developed a shield, so to say, to turn back the barbs.

Sidenote: Since the graphics for this blog have me wielding a sword, I can respect the shield. I have yet to see that sword, though. I sense that it was just clip art and doesn't really exist. But since I hear that the pen is mightier than the sword, I'll stick with the pen. Or in my case, the keyboard. Now, back to Harmon and his manner of deflection for those comments about his bow-legged build.

"Bow is beautiful," he said Sunday after scoring the go-ahead goal for Old Dominion's men's soccer team in the Monarchs' 3-2 victory over Winthrop in the last game of ODU's 37th annual Stihl Soccer Classic. Not sure about beautiful, but it sure looked good when Harmon took a pass from Tim Hopkinson in the box, hesitated long enough for Winthrop goal keeper Tom Banfield to commit one way, then snuck the ball past Banfield the other way. Felt good, too, for a lot of reasons.

First off, it helped the Monarchs stretch their record to 4-0, it helped them edge out VCU for the championship trophy in the Stihl Soccer Classic (and Monarchs fans love every opportunity to beat VCU, even if it's just on paper and happens to be in the fourth criteria of a soccer classic), and it came on Harmon's birthday. He turned 22 Sunday and some attractive co-eds were serenading him with "Happy Birthday" wishes from the stands after the game.

"It's not often you get to play on your birthday, let alone score a goal," he said. So the Monarchs remained unbeaten. But what was more important is that they won on a day when they didn't play their best. "That's a good sign," Harmon said. "When you find a way to win the games you don't play so well ... that says a lot about you as a team."

The Monarchs face a three-game stretch beginning Friday when they visit Creighton (ranked No. 3 depending on which poll you follow), take on Drake at Creighton two days later, then return home to host Maryland (ranked No. 1 depending on which poll you follow) on Tuesday.

Head coach Alan Dawson grinned when the idea of giving his players some days off to rest was broached. "We didn't play so well today," Dawson said, speaking about ODU's performance Sunday. "And if I was a younger coach, I might have them out there running sprints right now. "But I won't. Some of my players say it's because I'm getting soft. I'd like to think it's because I'm getting wise. We're going to need to conserve some energy heading out there to be ready for these three games in five days. And our freshmen are going to have to play some significant minutes to help us through this tough stretch."

While Harmon made the all-tournament team along with teammates Gideon Asante and Jordan LeBlanc, the MVP of the tournament was junior forward Tim Hopkinson, who scored four goals and had four assists in ODU's two victories (the Monarchs also won last Friday 6-0 over Seton Hall). Hopkinson was also named national player of the week.

OK, so that's one of ODU's three teams that are ranked in the top five respectively in their sports. The other two? That would be field hockey and football. Here's how it shakes out: • The men's soccer team is ranked No. 5 in Soccer America's Division I poll; • The field hockey team ranks No. 5 (and it has a big game at No. 1 North Carolina on Friday), and; • The football team is ranked No. 4 in the Football Championship Subdivision coaches poll.

So here's a question: What other Division I NCAA school has three fall-season teams ranked in the top five nationally? Yes, I had to do some research for the answer to this one. Would you believe that the only other school that can make that claim is Florida State? The Seminoles are tied for No. 5 in the AP FBS poll with Oklahoma, are ranked No. 1 in the country in women's soccer, and rank No. 4 in women's cross country. Critics can spin it any way they want. They can claim that I decided to use the Soccer America poll for men's soccer when ODU doesn't rank as high in the other polls (yes, I did). And they can downplay the football ranking, pointing out that it's the FCS rankings, not the AP's Top 25 for the FBS schools (yes, this is correct). But facts are facts.

There were a bunch of schools that had two teams ranked in the top five: North Carolina (No. 1 in field hockey and No. 3 in men's soccer), Oregon (No. 1 in women's cross country and No. 4 in the AP's FBS poll), Maryland (No. 1 in men's soccer and No. 3 in field hockey), UCLA (No. 2 in both women's soccer and women's volleyball), Oklahoma (tied for No. 5 in the AP's FBS poll and No. 4 in men's cross country), Oklahoma State (No. 2 in men's cross country and No. 3 in women's soccer), Southern Cal (No. 2 in the AP's FBS poll and No. 3 in women's volleyball), and Washington (No. 2 in women's cross country and No. 5 in women's volleyball).

So there's a unique moment in which Old Dominion is in a national athletics conversation with Florida State, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Oregon, Southern Cal, Washington, UCLA and Maryland. That's a pretty good 10 to be in. Bottom line, ODU is in high cotton right now when it comes to national rankings in multiple sports. And if anything, this proves I will dig for obscure facts when writing this blog.

Which brings me to this question: When will ODU shut out an opponent in football? The Monarchs came close this past weekend, allowing the Hampton Pirates a lone touchdown in a 45-7 victory. It was an impressive outcome, but not as impressive as the 59-0 pasting that Youngstown State put on Valparaiso. That win came on the heels of a huge upset of Pittsburgh, the same Pitt that is headed for the ACC next season. Youngstown State went into Pittsburgh and walked out with a 31-17 victory. ODU coach Bobby Wilder, however, was more impressed that Youngstown State didn't rest on its laurels, which he said is an indicator of a team with focus. "They backed up a huge victory with an outstanding performance," Wilder said. "That says a lot about that team."

Shutouts are rare. Youngstown State hadn't done it since the 2009 season when it shut out Indiana State. But shutouts do happen. And if this Old Dominion defensive unit really believes it is that much better than last year's defensive squad, what better way to show it than with a shutout. This will undoubtedly be the last time ODU meets Campbell in football. The Camels are designed to remain in the Pioneer League, a lower-rung FCS conference, while the Monarchs begin the move to the Football Bowl Subdivision and the big time next season. The scores of the three previous games between these two teams: 28-17, 44-13 and 41-14.

In a blog where I've already mentioned a sword and a shield, I guess I just threw down the gauntlet.

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