By Gavin Colton
NKU Marketing + Communications Intern
My name is Gavin Colton. I’m a senior journalism student from Leixlip County, Kildare, Ireland. This is my second year captaining the NKU Men’s Soccer team; I proudly take the responsibility for my final year.
Admittedly, it took me a whole two years to adjust to the American soccer system. I’ve learned you don’t always win games with talent, skill, or technique – at least we don’t. We win with war – being physical. Coming from a football background, it’s not easy to readjust to a completely different way of thinking about the game.
Every August, we play our opening game of the season against Kentucky. We’d played them the last three years and tied them each time. This year, I wanted a different outcome.
Not everyone understands – winning is about more than what happens on the field. It’s about taking care of your body, and being mentally prepared for every game.
“Hard work trumps talent when talent doesn’t work hard,” Coach John (Bas) Basalyga told me from day one. It’s proven true the past three years and I don’t imagine this year will be any different.
In the week leading up to that game, we could practice all we wanted because class hadn’t even started yet. “Good,” I thought. I wanted a win.
This was my last first game. And I wanted to remember every minute of it.
Friday Aug. 14
Walking up the seemingly endless steps from the soccer field to the locker room, our players drag their beaten bodies along the rails. It’s 9 p.m., time to brave another grueling ice bath.
“It gets easier the more you take,” we tell the freshmen.
Here’s the truth: it doesn’t.
We’d endured 15 practices in five days – because we didn’t start class for another week, our coaches could practice us for as long as they wanted. Whispers of “this is insane” and “how are we expected to play Kentucky on Sunday?” echo off the long Division II NCAA Championship mural painted in the corner of the locker room.
It’s a reminder of what we stand for – our history, a legacy.
Three years senior to the majority of the players, I feel the weight of their doubts, their fatigue, and their distrust about the arduous system here. The seniors rally. We need to keep the others on board.
“We’ve all been through this, we need them to buy into what we do,” I tell them.
My thoughts fly through all the things I must do as a leader to make sure our team is ready. Exhausted, I have no trouble falling asleep.
Saturday Aug. 15
Since the punishing fitness tests began at 7 a.m. the previous Monday, we’d put in 30 hours on the field in five days. With such a rigid daily schedule, you start to think less and less about what you’re doing – it all becomes routine. By the end of the week, your body starts to crave the employment of two hours work.
After morning practices we refuel for the midday session at Frisch’s. I think we redefined its idea of all-you-can-eat. In the afternoons we enjoyed City BBQ all week. Strangely, it didn’t get old or bland as the week went on. According to our Polar Flow watches, which track everything from heart rate, to how many miles you run, as well as how many calories you’ve burned in one session, we were burning anywhere between 4,000 to 6,000 calories per day. I lost 16 pounds in 10 days. Thankfully we didn’t go hungry after practices.
We did all we could that week – we were as physically ready as we could be. “It’s all mental from here,” the coaching staff says. Three-a-days are finally over. No more leg-shattering drills and monotonous running.
Practice becomes less intense. We talk about what’s expected tomorrow against Kentucky, a team our fans want us to beat badly. I think back to the previous three seasons, and how tired I had been.
“I always get my legs back, this won’t be any different,” I tell myself.
Our previous games versus Kentucky all ended the same. Three years, three ties. I’m hungry for victory. We replaced the players we lost last year, and I expected us to be stronger than ever.
During practice, the university is preparing for VictorFest, where new students will come out and watch our game. They build temporary bleachers behind the goal to house the spectator overload.
“There will be 2,000 fans – at least,” we tell the freshmen.
“Make this session count and you’re off for the day,” Coach Bas tells us. “Pay me now or pay me later.” He can be forgiving amongst the chaos sometimes.