Aug. 22, 2012
The saying "fit as a fiddle" has been around since the early 1600s, used first by Thomas Dekker, a London-born poet/writer. As idioms go, its meaning is fairly straightforward: fine-tuned, in shape and plays terrific.
To a man, Old Dominion's men's soccer team believes that it is fit as a fiddle.
Alan Dawson, who will begin his 15th season at the helm Saturday when the Monarchs host Navy at ODU's Soccer Complex at 7 p.m, also believes that's the case.
The level of conditioning this group of Monarchs has achieved over the long, hot summer has made for an enjoyable preseason of practice, particularly for Dawson. Instead of having his squad run the usually necessary gassers, the Monarchs have worked almost 100 percent of the time on tactics and the game's finer points.
On a recent evening that defined hot and muggy, the squad was sprinting through its final minutes of its second practice of the day, fresh as the proverbial daisy, throwing yet another idiom onto the pile.
So why did this bunch take it upon themselves to show up in such great shape? Dawson believes it is that element that makes ordinary teams good and good teams great: chemistry.
But Yannick Smith, the team's leading goal producer a year ago, points to something different when asked the same question. Smith points across the pitch at junior forward Tim Hopkinson.
"That's the man with the plan," said Smith, who found the net 16 times a year ago. "He's the one who made it happen."
Hopkinson, from Nottingham, England, is a workout junkie and master of self-deprecating humor. When he scores a goal, he'll tell you he got lucky. If so, he must have had a four-leaf clover in his back pocket and horseshoe tied `round his neck in 2011, for his so-called "luck" led to four game-winning goals last season.
Still, his shoulder-shrugging approach has endeared him to both his teammates and his coach. Dawson, who hails from the Emerald Isle - Northern Belfast in Ireland, to be exact - has an appreciation for Hopkinson's work ethic and humor, and states matter-of-factly that it has a lot to do with Hopkinson's heritage.
"He's a Brit," Dawson said, grinning and shrugging all in one.
Adding a little alliteration, it's safe to say he's a fit Brit.
Hopkinson was one of the ring leaders of a group of about a dozen Monarchs who stayed in Norfolk over the summer, determined to make the most of the 2012 campaign. The group followed a set regimen of training and tested themselves throughout the summer, with a treadmill fitness test and what amounted to the old Cooper test that military units use to measure endurance.
"Most of us had 30 to 40 percent improvement in our fitness levels by the end of the summer," said Hopkinson. "It was that drastic.
"You know, I used to think getting up early when you don't really have to is a sign of old age, but in my case it's a sign of just how fit I am right now. I'm up at 7 a.m., every morning. I'm in bed by between 10 and 11 p.m., every night. And I've never slept so well.
"I personally feel that we all know when we're not fit. I know deep down I'm as fit right now as I've ever been."
With a team that returns 10 starters, a season of greatness could be had. But how will it be measured in a year when there's no conference title as reward? Because ODU has decided to leave the Colonial Athletic Association at the end of the 2012-13 academic year, the CAA has deemed ODU ineligible for team titles. And for a soccer team that lost a heart-breaker in the conference championship game a year ago, that's kind of tough.
Prior to ODU's announcement of the pending move to Conference USA, Dawson had a rock-solid idea of how to motivate this squad, a unit that had come so close to winning the CAA a year ago.
Redemption of a lost chance would be the motivator.
Now, success must be measured differently.
It's something the Monarchs must deal with this year and something university president John Broderick also realizes. Broderick had a talk with the squad a week ago, a talk Dawson said created "positive vibes."
The goal for this team has to be higher than a CAA championship. And in a sport where it's not always the power-conference teams that win the national championships - UC Santa Barbara won in 2006, Akron won in 2010, and Charlotte was in the championship game a year ago - the pitch isn't necessarily tilted toward the big schools.
Maybe that's the type of goal this squad should aim for. And maybe this is the bunch of guys who could do it.
"This is a team that is almost sickening in how tight a bunch it is," Dawson laughed. "That really came out last spring break. We took the team to Florida to play a bunch of exhibition games and they really came together. They love each other almost like brothers."
The Monarchs will get through this, Dawson is confident, like a family making a move, a move that should end with ODU playing at a higher level and with a program headed for a better place. Conference USA promises a better level of competition and better venues. They won't play in a blizzard at Northeastern near the end of the regular season. They won't have to fight through four-inch high grass at Delaware. They won't have to play on artificial turf at Hofstra.
They will play in a conference that is located in the south, on pitches of Bermuda grass, a surface made for the skillful and quick players Dawson prefers to recruit.
It's a good move. One that ODU is ready to eventually make.
As for the season ahead, they are "fit" for that too. And Hopkinson and company have made sure of it. At least, that's what Hopkinson says.
"Then again, we open with Navy and nobody is fitter than those guys from the U.S. Naval Academy," he said. "We might get out there and discover that we aren't as fit as we think. Then it will be back to the old drawing board.
"We could be in store for a wake-up call. But we're pretty confident that we are where we want to be on the fitness part."
Now, it's time to give you some gravy for this opening blog. Associate athletic director Debbie White reports that the premium seat holders who complained about their seats holding rain water and leaking - making for wet seats and water in the rows - can stop worrying and fretting.
The padding for those seats has been removed completely and it will not be replaced. The problem, it seems, was from a design error in the construction of the padding.
So welcome to the blog. It's good to be here and I will write about a variety of items, issues and teams throughout the year. Here are a few things to know about my new role with ODU:
Not only will I blog, I will also tweet, and my new Twitter account is @Rich_Radford. So follow me. Now. (No, really, do it right now so you don't forget).
I'm going to be doing sideline reporting at home football games, but that's not all. I will be doing a pregame romp through the tailgate lots around Foreman Field, looking for someone interesting or entertaining to talk to.
I will be part of the pregame show originating on Kaufman Mall. The show will begin an hour before kickoff and the crew will include Ted Alexander, Andy Mashaw and Rick Kiefner.
The ODU Sports Radio Network can be heard on 94.1 FM, but here's a twist: On campus on game days, you will also have a chance to pick up the coverage on 94.5 FM, because we will amplify the signal close range on campus, with the signal originating at Foreman Field.
I hope I've given you some things to chew on, reason to tune in and new blog to check out with regularity.