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Analyzing the World Cup draw

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On Dec. 1st, soccer fans from all corners of the globe gathered around their televisions to watch the 2018 FIFA World Cup draw, held at the State Kremlin Palace in Moscow, Russia. For many, the World Cup is more than just a soccer tournament. Because it is the most watched sporting event in the world, the tournament provides a platform for cultural expression, and for a nation to represent itself in front of the entire world.

“The tournament has a way of enabling citizens to puff out their chest; of giving them license to say ‘this is our team’ and having some pride in their nation, and no other sporting event does that because no other sport truly embraces so many people from every corner of the globe,” explains Nigel Reed, a soccer journalist for CBC Sports.

During the selection show for the 2018 edition of the World Cup, the 32 qualified teams were drawn into eight groups of four teams. The teams were chosen from four pots based on their October 2017 FIFA rankings. Pot one contained the seven highest ranked teams in the tournament, plus the tournament host, Russia, pot two consisted of the next eight teams in the ranking, and so on. Each group received one team from each pot.

In addition to the mandatory placement of Russia into Pot One, the draw conditions stipulated that no group could include more than two UEFA (European) nations or more than one team from CAF (Africa), CONCACAF (North and Central America and the Caribbean), CONMEBOL (South America), OFC (Oceania), or AFC (Asia).

This year’s draw produced many interesting results but surprisingly no clear “group of death.” A group of death is a group in which the number of strong teams is greater than the number of qualifying places, meaning at least one strong competitor will be eliminated. In the 2014 World Cup, the United States was drawn into the group of death along with Germany, Portugal, and Ghana.

Below is a breakdown of the eight groups from this year’s draw.

Group A: Russia (#65 in the FIFA rankings), Uruguay (17), Egypt (30), Saudi Arabia (63)

The 2018 World Cup will kick off June 14th with an uninspiring matchup between the two lowest ranked teams in the tournament, Russia and Saudi Arabia. In the tournament’s weakest group, a strong Uruguay attack featuring world-class strikers, Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez, is expected to lead La Celeste to the Round of 16. The second spot in the knockout stages will likely be determined in a three-way battle between the host nation, Russia, playing for the pride of an entire nation, an underrated Egyptian team starring, Mohamed Salah, one of the world’s most in-form players who currently plays for Premier League giant, Liverpool FC, and the little known Saudi Arabia squad.

Prediction: 1st place: Uruguay, 2nd place: Egypt, 3rd place: Russia, 4th place: Saudi Arabia

Group B: Portugal (3), Spain (8), Iran (34), Morocco (48)

Group B will likely come down to a battle between the reigning European Champions, Portugal, and the 2010 World Cup Champions, Spain, although Morocco should not be underestimated having gone undefeated in its qualifying group. Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal’s 32-year-old star striker and one of the best players in soccer history, will be especially motivated as this could be his final chance to take home the World Cup crown. However, I believe Spain’s balanced attack and strong defending will propel the La Roja over the Seleção.  

Prediction: 1st place: Spain, 2nd place: Portugal, 3rd place: Morocco, 4th place: Iran

Group C: France (7), Peru (10), Denmark (19), Australia (43)

France will be licking their chops with this favorable draw. Peru, although highly ranked, lacks the star quality to compete with France, and Denmark is too reliant on star Christian Eriksen. However, expect a strong battle for second place between Peru and Denmark, two nations that play with a lot of heart and grit. Australia, already the weakest team in the group, is currently without a coach and will find it hard to adapt to a new system before the tournament begins.

Prediction: 1st place: France, 2nd place: Denmark, 3rd place: Peru, 4th place: Australia

Group D: Argentina (4), Croatia (18), Iceland (21), Nigeria (41)

The closest group to a “group of death,” Group D features four highly competitive teams. Lionel Messi, the world’s best player, leads an Argentina team that should claim the group. Croatia, Iceland (the smallest nation to ever play in the World Cup with a population size of around 330,000), and the best pot four team in the tournament, Nigeria, will duke it out for the second place in the knockout round.

Prediction: 1st place: Argentina, 2nd place: Croatia, 3rd place: Nigeria, 4th place: Iceland

Group E: Brazil (2), Switzerland (11), Costa Rica (22), Serbia (38)

Neymar and Brazil will roll through this group in an attempt to recover from their 7-1 loss to Germany on home turf in the semifinals of the 2014 World Cup. The Switzerland – Costa Rica match will likely determine the second team through to the Round of 16. Will the creativity of Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri propel the Swiss through to the next stage, or will the strong goalkeeping and leadership of Real Madrid star Keylor Navas lead Costa Rica to yet another World Cup upset?

Prediction: 1st place: Brazil, 2nd place: Costa Rica, 3rd place: Switzerland, 4th place: Serbia

Group F: Germany (1), Mexico (16), Sweden (25), South Korea (62)

Group F is a strong group, but one that the reigning World Cup champions and current top ranked, Germany, should have no trouble navigating. Mexico cruised through qualifying using a rotating squad, but will face a difficult test in Sweden, which defeated 2006 World Cup Champions, Italy, in a playoff without their star striker, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who retired from international soccer in 2016.

Prediction: 1st place: Germany, 2nd place: Mexico, 3rd place: Sweden, 4th place: South Korea

Group G: Belgium (5), England (12), Tunisia (28), Panama (49)

Group G should be a two-way shootout between Belgium and England. Belgium has put together its best squad in history, but will have its hands full with a strong England team trying to put past World Cup failures behind it. Expect Tunisia and Panama to put up good efforts, but the two nations will likely be relegated to fighting it out for third place.

Prediction: 1st place: England, 2nd place: Belgium, 3rd place: Tunisia, 4th place: Panama

Group H: Poland (6), Colombia (13), Senegal (32), Japan (44)

Group H is the most open group of the draw. Despite being a top seed, Poland lacks technical quality outside of striker Robert Lewandowski. Colombia will hope to repeat its 2014 World Cup heroics on the back of Radamel Falcao, and Lewandowski’s Bayern Munich teammate, James Rodriguez. Senegal’s hopes rely on raw talent and the extreme athleticism of Liverpool star Sadio Mane. Even Japan, featuring Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda, is a threat to move on to the next round.

Prediction: 1st place: Colombia, 2nd place: Senegal, 3rd place: Poland, 4th place: Japa

Group L (not an official group): Chile (9), Italy (15), Netherlands (20), USA (27)

This group of nations will be extremely disappointed to have missed out on the 2018 World Cup. Italy is a 4-time World Cup champion and has not missed a World Cup final since 1958, Chile is a 2-time defending Copa America champion, the Netherlands were World Cup runner-ups in 2010, and the United States missed the finals for the first time since 1986 despite the rapid emergence of 19-year-old wunderkind Christian Pulisic.

Regardless of how the groups pan out, the 2018 World Cup will without a doubt be full of upsets and emotion. Some stars will emerge, others will crumble, and nations will battle for one of the most coveted titles in the world

Checking in on the Champions League

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Europe’s top soccer tournament, the UEFA Champions League, is well under way. The Champions League puts the best teams from a multitude of different European soccer leagues (England, Italy, Spain, Germany, France, etc.) against each other in one tournament. There are several stages to the Champions League. Teams must first qualify by either winning their domestic league or placing very high in their league table. This is dependent on the quality of the league each team comes from. For example, only the winners of the Belgian league qualify but the top four English teams qualify, due to the competitive nature of the English Premier League. Overall, there are 32 teams divided into eight different groups of four. The teams in these groups will all play one another twice, and the two teams with the highest number of points (3 for a win, 1 for a draw) advance. This leads to the knockout stage, in which the 16 remaining teams compete the traditional tournament format, with the winner moving on. Currently, the tournament is 75 percent through the group stages.

The groups of the Champions Leagues are extremely influential in the results of the tournament. Since they are randomly chosen after the 32 teams qualify, the quality of teams in each group can vary immensely based on the sorting. This year, a terrifying “Group of Death” is composed of Tottenham Hotspur (England), Real Madrid (Spain), Borussia Dortmund (Germany), and Apoel Niscosia (Greece). The first three teams in this group are world class teams: Tottenham and Dortmund are some of the top teams in their own countries and Real Madrid is arguably one of the best teams in the world, winning three out of the four last Champions Leagues. Currently, the table has Tottenham in first, Real Madrid in second, Dortmund in third, and Nicosia in fourth.

Another “Group of Death” has AS Roma (Italy), Chelsea (England), Atletico Madrid (Spain), and FK Qarabag (Azerbaijan). Similar to the irst group of death, three of these teams have been historically very successful in the Champions League. Chelsea and Roma are two of the top teams in their respective leagues and Atletico Madrid has been the tournament’s final twice in the last four years, both times losing to Real Madrid. Roma is on top of this table, with Chelsea in second, Atletico in third, and Qarabag in fourth.

There are six more groups, each riddled with very capable soccer clubs, but there a few names more recognizable than others. Manchester United, one of the most recognizable names in English soccer, is on top of their group, having won all four of the games they’ve played. One Swarthmore student, Oliver Steinglass ’20,  is a fan of Manchester United, and was asked a few questions on the English club’s Champions League chances:

Obviously, tensions are high with most Manchester fans these days. Both clubs, United and City, are playing exceptionally well. With good play comes high expectations, so there’s good reason for Oliver’s bold predictions and sensitive nature.

Manchester City is flying high in their group, having won all four of their games. Also in City’s group is Napoli, the top team of the Italian League table. They, however, are struggling in third place with only one win. The English club Liverpool is narrowly in first in their group, with Spain’s Sevilla in hot pursuit. Barcelona, another world famous club, is sitting atop their group through four games. Juventus (Italy), last year’s runner-up, is right behind Barcelona in that same group. Finally, giant clubs Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) (France) and Bayern Munich (Germany) are locked into a tight race for first place in their respective group.

The round of 16 will be finalized in December with the first games of the stage played in February and March. The knockout stage will conclude with the finals on May 26, 2018. As of November 5, 2017, it’s tough to pick out a winner. Both Manchester clubs have been excellent, but with their focus also on their own league race back in England, it’ll be tough for the teams to field fresh players for Champions League games. The two Spanish giants, Barcelona and Real Madrid, are always in the running. However, after Real Madrid’s recent shocking 3-1 loss to Tottenham and lackluster play in the Spanish league, one can wonder how they expect to turn their play around. Meanwhile, Barcelona have been excellent, despite losing their young star Neymar Jr. to PSG, who are also making noise in Europe. Juventus and Bayern Munich also can’t be ignored: both teams have always been historically successful in European play. Additionally, it’s tough to ignore Tottenham after their defeat of Real Madrid and fantastic play in a “Group of Death”.

As for me, a fan of Tottenham, I would love to see my club win. However, despite their victory over Real Madrid, it’s hard to imagine that other massive clubs won’t pick up their form. I don’t think Manchester United has enough to win the league, and Manchester City certainly cannot keep up their amazing form. Barcelona will go far, and I’m sure Real Madrid will sort themselves out in time for the knockout stage. I expect Juventus to exit early and for Bayern to go deep into the tournament as well. However, it is PSG who I think will win the entire tournament. The team that consistently falls short in the tournament will finally have their dream finish.

It’s tough to liken the Champions League to any other sports tournament. It doesn’t meet the World Cup in terms of passion; nothing does. However, one could argue that the Champions League puts on display the best soccer teams on planet, and that the Champions League Final is the pinnacle of soccer for a given year. After all, the top club teams attract the top players each year: national teams are set from birth. Either way, it’s guaranteed that true soccer fans will feast their eyes on the tournament over the next seven months.

Volleyball and Women’s soccer takes on the postseason

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With fall break having come and gone and going and the second rounds of midterms fast approaching, fall sports have begun winding down. As teams begin to hang up their jerseys and look to improve in the offseason, Volleyball and Women’s Soccer have a chance to compete for a Centennial Conference Championship.

Both of these teams have previous experience in playoffs. Women’s Soccer made it to the semifinal round, and Volleyball was the runner up in the Championship last year. Both teams have been working hard and putting everything they have into the final weeks of their season.

Volleyball is hoping to claim their first-ever Centennial Conference Championship this year. Seeded second in conference, the team hopes to make a strong run in the postseason. Last season, they came within a match of winning the Championship but were ultimately beaten out by Johns Hopkins. This year, Volleyball is working hard for a different outcome. The team has been doing everything in their power to prepare themselves for their upcoming game this Saturday against Muhlenberg. Emily Kibby ’19 elaborated on her team’s preparation.

All the training that we’ve been doing all season and the competition that we’ve faced has been leading up to now. This week is about focusing on what we can do well and making sure that we take care of ourselves so that we can play our best on Saturday,” said Kibby.

The team also stresses the importance of a healthy team environment off the court. For example, this Halloween the whole team dressed up as broccoli, decking themselves out in green morph suits and broccoli earrings. Creating a fun team culture has been an integral part of Volleyball’s current success. Their ability to be united off the court has played a big role in their positive team chemistry that has helped them win on the court. This amazing team atmosphere can be attributed to their five seniors who have dedicated the past four years to their team. Elise Cummings ’19 shares the impact the seniors have had.

“Our seniors have each played a huge role in taking Swarthmore Volleyball to the next level these past four years. I know I speak for everyone who has had the opportunity to play with these five when I say that I consider it a privilege to have shared the court with them. There is no one I would rather have to lead us to a championship this weekend.”

Led by these five instrumental seniors, the Garnet face Muhlenberg this Saturday at 3:30 p.m. Although the game will be at Johns Hopkins, it can be viewed through the athletic website on the live feed. If they win that game, they play the winner of John Hopkins and either Franklin and Marshall or McDaniel Sunday at 1 p.m for the Centennial Conference Championship.

Women’s Soccer looks to claim its second-ever Centennial Conference Championship this weekend. Seeded second, the team hopes to make a strong run in conferences. Last season Johns Hopkins halted their conference run in the semifinals, but Swat Soccer is looking to come back strong this year. Instead of focusing on the championship, women’s soccer is playing in the moment and trying their hardest to win each game. Yasmeen Namazie ’19 expanded on this win-every-game mentality and how it is a different mindset from last year.

I think that this year we have been more fixated on the present than looking at games in the future. We have really emphasized a one game at a time mentality. Every game matters at this point; it’s win or go home.”

Garnet Soccer has been working hard every day in order to prepare for their conference championship tournament. When asked about their upcoming semifinals matchup against Haverford, Claire O’Brien ’18 gave some insight on how the team has been preparing.

“We have been preparing by staying focused and continuing to build on what we’ve done all season. We are continuing to work hard to stay sharp on our game skills and get our school work done since we’ll likely be away traveling most of the weekend.”

Swat Soccer takes on Haverford this Saturday at 6:30 p.m. Like Volleyball, their game is away at Johns Hopkins but can be viewed on the athletic website’s live stream. If they win Saturday, they will play for the championship at 5 p.m. Sunday.

Swarthmore sports seem poised for a strong playoff run this fall. These two teams have worked extremely hard in the regular season in order to ensure a bid into conferences, and they are now continuing this hard work into playoffs. Volleyball looks to capitalize on their stellar senior class and their inspirational leadership in their pursuit of their first Centennial Conference Championship. Women’s soccer plans to use their win-each-game mentality to advance past semifinals and win the championship. Hopefully, both teams will come back to Swat with a Championship trophy and a bid into NCAA Playoffs.

U.S. men’s national soccer teams fails to qualify for World Cup

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For the first time in 31 years, the United States Men’s National Soccer Team failed to qualify for the World Cup after its poor performance in the Confederation of North, Central, American and Caribbean Association of Football (CONCACAF) qualifying hexagonal. To the disappointment of many U.S. fans, Tim Howard, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Omar Gonzalez,  and Christian Pulisic, all big names in the world of soccer, will not be making an appearance in Russia next summer.

The team’s failure was solidified on the night of Oct. 10,  in a near-empty Caribbean arena just slightly larger than Swarthmore’s attempt at a stadium. After conceding two goals in the first half, one of which was an accidental own goal, the U.S. simply made too many other mistakes to fully recover. The game concluded with a soulless 2-1 defeat to the already-eliminated Trinidad & Tobago, loser of eight of its previous nine games.

U.S. defender Omar Gonzalez, who scored the own goal, responded to the loss with frustration and sadness.

“We let down an entire nation today,” he said. Coach Bruce Arena also commented on the outcome of the match.

“We foolishly brought Trinidad into the game with the own goal. That was a big goal for Trinidad psychologically. That got them motivated.”

Not all shared the disappointment of the U.S., though. Former CONCACAF president and Trinidad-born Jack Warner called his country’s defeat of the U.S. the happiest day of [his] life, adding that nobody in CONCACAF likes the U.S. Warner, a former FIFA vice-president, already has some poor history with the U.S., due to his alleged involvement in corruption in the sport and consequently being a main target of the U.S. Department of Justice.

However, surprisingly enough, the loss to Trinidad did not by itself guarantee the United States’ failure to qualify. Instead, it was a combination of unfavorable events that resulted in the unfortunate outcome.

The CONCACAF hexagonal is the fifth and final round of the World Cup qualifying process that began back in January 2015. It is a six-team round robin tournament from which the top three teams qualify for the World Cup, while the fourth place team plays an intercontinental playoff for a spot. Going into the final matches, the U.S. was in third place, and all they needed to guarantee qualification was a draw against Trinidad. Panama and Honduras were the other teams in the mix.

When the U.S. lost the match, the team was even more devastated to find out that both Panama and Honduras had won their matches, pushing the U.S. to fifth place and elimination.

“Everything that could have possibly gone wrong did, in this stadium and in two other stadiums across the region,” commented team captain Michael Bradley.

Gonzalez also spoke after the elimination about the loss and his own goal.

“It’s one that will haunt me forever. It’s the worst day of my career … What was supposed to be a celebration is now … I don’t even know what to say. It’s terrible,” said Gonzalez.  

“If you don’t look at yourself after this individually,” he said, “I think you’re f—ed up in the head,” said disconsolate forward Jozy Altidore.

Rightfully so, Coach Arena took responsibility for the outcome of the hexagonal.

“We should not be staying home for this World Cup,” he said. “And I take responsibility for it. We didn’t qualify for the World Cup that was my job to get the team there,” said Arena

Missing the World Cup will likely put the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) on a tighter budget in years to come. The revenue lost from not going to Russia next year will affect salaries for staff members who might already be on the fence about the decision of leaving after this year’s mishap. At the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, the USSF collected a total of $10.5 million — $1.5 million for participating and $9 million for advancing to the round of 16.

Playing in a World Cup also attracts sponsors, and although the U.S. team has already locked down many of them, its absence at next year’s World Cup will definitely make it harder to forge new sponsorship relationships in the future.

David Carter, executive director of the Marshall Sports Business Institute at the University of Southern California, commented on the topic of sponsorships.

“[Sponsorship] contracts typically have some contingencies where the amount of money is scaled back. There might be some sort of calibration that will take place so these partners are paying something commensurate with what they are truly getting.”

The current status of the U.S. soccer team has larger consequences than just missing this one World Cup, however. The U.S. team’s next World Cup game will take place during Thanksgiving week more than five years from now. And that’s the best case scenario. Teenage wunderkind Christian Pulisic will be 24, several years into his career. Tim Howard, whose last World Cup was without a doubt a legendary performance, will likely leave U.S. soccer with the lasting image of one of his worst performances. And never again will Clint Dempsey and captain Michael Bradley step on soccer’s biggest stage.

Furthermore, the subpar performance of the U.S. soccer team has highlighted and brought to attention several other issues with the U.S. soccer landscape, especially for youth players. Under criticism now is the subtle pay-to-play culture that’s made soccer a sport played primarily by upper-middle class white kids.

Doug Anderson, the chairman of U.S. Soccer’s diversity task force saw a broken system in America. He saw well-to-do families spending thousands of dollars each year on club soccer for their children, while thousands of gifted players in mostly African American and Latino neighborhoods get left behind.

“People don’t want to talk about it., The system is not working for the underserved community. It’s working for white kids,” said Anderson.

Some believe that the struggles of the U.S. team can be attributed to the lack in the ability of certain demographics to afford the high prices of the elite soccer clubs that send kids to the national team. One former U.S. soccer official shares this opinion about the future of the country’s soccer team.

“How good would we be if we could just get the kids in the cities?” he questions.

The failure of the U.S. men’s national team to qualify for the World Cup this year was already a disappointing outcome for American sports. Now, with further issues concerning race and socioeconomic backgrounds, we are sure to hear more negative news about United States soccer, both professional and youth, in the near future.

Tom Wilmots beats FC Phi Psi in PK thriller

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Two weekends ago, Swarthmore Intramural Soccer, one of the most popular sports leagues on campus, concluded its season. This season, the championship was contested by five teams: FSFA, Retired Lads, FC Phi Psi, Tom Wilmots, and Slugmore FC. FSFA won the regular season with a record of 3-0-1, including an 8-2 rout of Slugmore FC, who finished the season without a win and was eliminated from postseason play. Retired Lads, composed primarily of former varsity soccer players and current club players, came in second, with FC Phi Psi in third and Tom Wilmots in fourth to complete the championship bracket.

       Tom Wilmots upset FSFA in the first semifinal matchup, avenging a regular season defeat. The second semifinal matchup saw Retired Lads defeat FC Phi Psi with ease. However, immediately afterwards, Retired Lads was accused of rule violations, and they were disqualified from further play. The specific rule in question stated that a team may only have two club soccer players on their roster. Retired Lads technically only had two rostered Men’s Club Soccer players on their team, but because most of their players had appeared in games for club soccer, they were disqualified. Retired Lads member Joaquin Delmar Perez ’18 spoke regarding the disqualification.

       “They should have just eliminated us at the beginning if they wanted to. IM should make it clear in the future what the skill level limit should be for the tournament and clarify the rules regarding club soccer players,” he shared. “We stayed within the bounds of the rules, but if intramural wants to maintain a certain skill level, they need to clarify their rules so that such an issue will not occur again. At the end of the day, we just wanted to make a team because a lot of us were ex-varsity players and we just wanted to have fun.”

       Because of Retired Lads’ disqualification, it was FC Phi Psi that advanced to the finals. The stage was set, with FC Phi Psi playing Tom Wilmots in an intense championship game. The game certainly lived up to all the hype, with some spectacular defense and goaltending from both sides. After two twenty-minute regulation halves and a ten minute golden-goal overtime, the score was left at 0-0. Tom Wilmots received fantastic defensive performances from Tom Wilmots ’17, Rajnish Yadav ’18, Sawyer Lake ’20, and Brian Gibbs ’17, while Brandon McKenzie ’17, Aidan Miller ’17, and Charlie Levitt ’19 led the charge on offense. FC Phi Psi’s defense was led by Christian Vik ’19, while the offense was powered by the dynamic duo of John Arth ’19 and Zander Levitz ’20, who were a force to be reckoned with all season.  

       This scene is all too familiar for both teams. In a previous regular season matchup, FC Phi Psi and Tom Wilmot ended regulation tied at 2-2. Intramural rules state that there can be no overtime or penalty kicks in regular season play. Nonetheless, both teams wanted a winner, and penalty kicks were used to decide that. After an intense set of penalty kicks and incredible goalkeeping by Aidan Greer ’18, Tom Wilmots walked away victorious.

       Again, we find FC Phi Psi and Tom Wilmots grinding until the end, but this time, for the championship. At the end of golden-goal time, the game moved to penalty kicks. At the end of penalty kicks, Tom Wilmots emerged victorious, after more fantastic goalkeeping by Greer.

       “Before I took [the] PK, it was nerve-wracking, but I remembered Teddy Roosevelt’s quote: ‘It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly, who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming,’” said Lake, regarding his converted penalty kick in the shootout and the eventual victory.

       “When I scored the goal, I knew my teammates were proud of me. It felt great to represent Tom Wilmots’ name. Our team had talent and chemistry, and that is what drove us to victory,” he said.

       The talent and chemistry was clear enough. After McKenzie secured the win with the final penalty kick, Tom Wilmots rushed together and dogpiled in excitement.

Pressures, academic or others, no big deal for athletic titans

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After visiting or reading about Swarthmore, some prospective students might feel that they have learned two pieces of information about Swarthmore College. First, this school is a pressure cooker. Second, this school is full of kids who are so smart they couldn’t possibly be athletic. I believe that because our top-tier Women’s Volleyball  and Soccer teams each carry All-American athletes, you can be smart and athletic at Swarthmore. However, it’s false to say that Swarthmore doesn’t have any impressive athletes, but because Swarthmore is a place with plenty of pressure to succeed, they might find it hard to meet expectations. Now, imagine that you go to Swarthmore and your team makes the playoffs. How do you handle the added pressure?

    This year, Swarthmore is sending two fall sport teams to playoffs. The Women’s Volleyball team ended their conference season with an 8-2 record, placing second in the Centennial Conference heading into playoffs. Women’s Soccer is following closely behind, ending conference play with a 7-2 record, setting them up as the third seed in conference playoffs. Both teams are in the midst of impressive runs, with players from each team ranking with high individual stats in the conference and many players earning Player of the Week commendations. Currently, Marin McCoy ’19 has the second most points for Women’s Soccer players in the conference, and Sarah Wallace ’18 has the sixth most kills out of players in the conference. These girls are worthy opponents by anyone’s standards.

    They may be physically talented enough, but can they handle the playoff pressure?

    According to several players, the added pressure is undeniable, but certainly not crippling.  Different players feel the weight of the game in distinct ways.

    “The only time I feel the pressure of a big match is in the days leading up to it. Once I actually start playing, I get so invested in the immediate action that I don’t worry about the pressure involved, and just focus on myself and my teammates,” said Sarah Girard ‘19, the libero for the Women’s Volleyball team.

     McCoy ’19, starting forward for the Women’s Soccer team, looks at pressure from a different perspective.

    “All forwards feel a pressure to score a goal in an important game, and when we give up a good scoring opportunity, we are especially hard on ourselves,” said McCoy. Both athletes recognize the pressure, but its timing and weight plays in differently for them. Although both are key players for their teams, McCoy and Girard differ in how they handle stress. While their personalities are likely explanatory factors, it is probable that the type of sport they play contributes as well. Volleyball is a high-scoring and fast-paced game compared to soccer, where it is possible that no one scores in an entire game. This divergence can lead to a varying amount of pressure placed one individual’s mess up or scoring opportunity.

    While these sports may have stark formatting differences, they have one vital similarity. They are team sports. Although one player’s performance can make a difference, in both sports, there is always a teammate there to help pick you up when you’re down. McCoy knows exactly what the word teammate means.

    “When I think about this being the last opportunity that our seniors play college soccer, I am the most motivated. I know how much they have put into this team, and I put more effort in the game when I think about how important it is to them.”

    Only a sophomore herself, McCoy lays it all out on the line as if it was her last chance because she knows that for some of her teammates, it is. Girard also weighs in on the significance of the team as a motivator, commenting,

    “I have to play for my teammates, so that I can win with my teammates.”

This team dynamic drives Swat Volleyball, with Wallace agreeing that they have a very strong team focus.  She explained that they, “Always stand in a huddle in the middle of the court, and tell each other to play hard and to play for each other.” Doing well for their team challenges these players to conquer the pressure and work hard for themselves but, more importantly, for the team.

    Unfortunately, for these athletes, their seasons and the extra pushes of playoffs do not mean they get to skip out on their work for classes. Despite the extra work, Girard and Wallace both recognize their ability to separate school from volleyball, avoiding thoughts of work during practices or games and use their sport as a break from the busy world of Swat. For McCoy, the stress and constant flow of schoolwork is actually an advantage.

    “If I did not have as much school work, I would spend a lot more time analyzing rankings, film, and soccer in general,” she said, adding, “The way that academic experiences at Swat challenge us to push through help me maintain my determination and motivation not to give up and to continue working hard in soccer.”

Just as all students here feel the strain to do well in their classes, these athletes feel the pressure to perform well in their games. As our two teams head off to playoffs, we can support them knowing they will go all out on the court or the field despite the pressure. Wallace said, “It’s a great thing to feel pressure, because that means you want to win.”

Each player conquers the stress of both their athletic and academic worlds in different ways, but we know that each player will put their best foot forward to win. They sometimes use academics as a distraction from sports, or they use practices and games as a break from their rigorous workload. Though it may be tough, these athletes will always persevere through the pressure for their teammates; after all, they are Swatties, and Swatties know stress best.

President Val Smith and the importance of Swat athletics

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Recently, my friend and ex-baseball teammate from high school shockingly decided to transfer out of Oberlin College, a liberal arts school in Ohio. While he seemed perfectly content during his freshmen year at Oberlin, succeeding academically, as well as athletically as both a goalie for the soccer team and catcher for the baseball team, he felt that the Oberlin student body socially shunned student-athletes on campus. Although unfortunate, this shunning atmosphere is contrary to the diverse community that similar institutions, like Swarthmore, attempt to foster. This phenomenon has manifested itself far too commonly, particularly in liberal arts colleges in America.

     This division within the student bodies of liberal arts colleges is dangerous, and  Swarthmore President Valerie Smith has decided to take a stand. Recently, President Smith was seen on the sidelines of a Women’s Soccer game as an honorary coach. In her tenure thus far, the athletics program at Swarthmore is growing in its successes. The act stood as a sign of unity and respect, as the esteemed President felt compelled to show her support and appreciation for the athletics department. Whether cheering for the Garnet in the baseball stands or along the track, Smith certainly has had an impact on the way athletics are viewed here at Swarthmore.

      Her actions have not gone unnoticed. This past year, the Women’s Volleyball team held a  Faculty and Staff Appreciation Game, creating invaluable connections between the administration, athletes, and the student body. This appreciation for athletics has followed Smith throughout her career, even as far back as commandeering a movement for equality for women in athletics during her undergraduate studies at Bates College, another prolific liberal arts school. In an interview with local news station NBC10, Smith went as far to say, “I’m happiest when I’m able to get a lot of exercise…” Smith also discussed in that same interview the need to address and include the voices of all students, especially in an era of such social change and awareness. In her example, we all should strive to appreciate the culture, community, pride, and competition that athletics contributes to our community.

      I went to a small, all-male private school in the heart of Washington, DC, that mandated all students participate on some sports team for almost every season of their high school career. This requirement certainly benefited the school,  teaching students the importance of physical education and health; however, it also meant that sports played a major role in the social weave of the school community. This created a lack of people with unique and diverse interests outside of sports. Those who did were labelled as effeminate or inept. Arriving at Swarthmore, I have already been struck by the sincere diversity of interests and talents that we, as a student body, possess. However, it is imperative that we not ostracize the athletes, thereby cultivating a student body of only one type of student.

      Here at Swarthmore, we pride ourselves on opening the macroscopic dialogue to people of all backgrounds, experiences, beliefs, and cultures. It is this strong interwoven sense of community that allows us to succeed both individually and as a whole. In this day and age where stereotypes prevail, we cannot regard all athletes as sports-first-school-second, insensitive jocks. It becomes all the more imperative that college communities support the endeavors undertaken by our colleagues and classmates. Particularly, when certain athletes at other schools have been the focus of so much controversy in the media for their involvement in misogynistic behavior and breaches of integrity, it is important that we recognize that athletes are members of the Swarthmore community as well, accomplished, intelligent, and important in their own right.

Technology and Officiating

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As much as some of the problems in professional sports today may seem endless, issues with officiating are genuinely intertwined with the ideas of sports themselves. No genuine sport just moves calmly along without someone having to make a call about an ambiguous in-game moment. And, since we’re all human, mistakes are bound to happen in this process. From that point of view, it seems like officiating and the baggage associated with it is so fundamental to sports that they could just be ignored. Why then, do we still see intense discussions left and right about officiating in almost every mainstream professional sport possible?

The simple, maybe somewhat obvious, answer is that officiating is constantly evolving, as players, fans, and all levels of sports organizations work together to see how they can improve it. This involves striking a balance between trying to get as much justice served as possible (in the form of accurate calls, proper response to misconduct on the field, etc.) while not taking away from the pure, competitive, free-flowing aspect of most sports. What makes the evolution of officiating more interesting is that different sports have approached it in a variety of angles that are worth comparing. In particular, the varying degrees to which these sports have embraced technology is a key indicator of how their officiating has evolved.

The NFL has probably embraced technology the most, granting head coaches the chance to make up to three challenges during games regarding officiating calls made. The situations that are being challenged are reviewed on video, and overturned if the video replays show enough evidence against the original call. Not all calls can be challenged, however, partially due to the fact that coaches only have a limited set of challenges that often run out. NFL referees are under constant scrutiny by the fan base for making a few notable errors that have changed the outcomes of games. Examples include the infamous Dez Bryant catch/drop debate last year, as well as a more recent incident last week where the Jaguars beat the Ravens on a field goal that only happened after referees failed to flag the Jaguars on a false start penalty. The NFL does acknowledge many of the mistakes they make, including this one with the Jaguars, so it is clear that they are very conscious of their officiating quality. For the NFL, officiating will continue to develop as the rules regarding when referees can use technology are adjusted to catch situations like these.

While most sports have accepted technology as a necessary tool for officiating, not all have embraced it as fully as the NFL has. Major League Baseball, for example, uses it to judge situations where there is ambiguity regarding base hits and home runs. For the most part, though, many fans and analysts claim that the MLB is too concerned with pleasing “old-school” fans and has shunned many potential areas for technology to be introduced as a result.

One aspect of the game that is particularly suspect to human error is umpire calls regarding balls and strikes. Tracking technology like PITCHf/x is being used to teach umpires outside of games how to better identify balls and strikes, and their accuracy has improved from 83% to 86% as a result. While this is a decent accuracy for humans, Business Insider noted that it still amounts to around 50,000 incorrect calls for the average umpire during the season. What is probably the most infuriating to fans is that they have the solutions in their homes; TV broadcasts include automated pictures of the strike zone that allow fans to know the correct calls while having to see umpires make mistakes. With ESPN recently unveiling a three-dimensional strike zone in their broadcasts, it seems more inevitable that the MLB will have to utilize an automated strike zone very soon. Although some fans of older generations might be upset at reduction in the role of the umpire, this should be offset by vastly improved accuracy of strike zone calls. The MLB has the technology it needs readily available, and just needs to embrace it now.

The last sport worth looking at on this spectrum of officiating technology acceptance is soccer, which has almost completely shunned the use of technology to aid in officiating. The result has been that officiating errors are more ingrained in how players actually play the game, in the sense that many players try to get incorrect calls from the referees that are beneficial for their teams. The culture of diving, which is when players fall to the ground trying to earn a foul, is evident in even the best players. Furthermore, many fans who’ve watched a game on television can recall a time when they’ve seen an incorrect offsides call on a goal, either where a legal goal was disallowed by a flawed offside call or a goal was allowed that should have been called offsides. Again, fans at home can see the errors that referees are making.

However, in this case, I think that technology should be kept out for the most part. Unlike baseball and football, soccer doesn’t have constant pauses in play; the game flows non-stop for two 45-minute periods. Even when injuries happen, there is an effort to get the game back running as quickly as possible since the clock doesn’t stop. With that in mind, FIFA’s current ban on something that would be as time-intrusive as instant replay makes sense.

Yet, the one exception that is questionable calls in regards to goals; since one goal can often decide the outcome of an entire 90 minutes of play, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to allow instant replay in the case of a contested goal or offside call. This would ultimately require a stoppage of time, so perhaps only one “challenge” per head coach should be allowed in those instances. Unfortunately, FIFA isn’t quite functioning properly at the moment given all its corruption issues, so this development of soccer’s officiating could be far off. That isn’t the worst thing, though, since soccer has managed to remain the top sport in the world despite the constant officiating issues. It could deal just fine without the change I proposed, although it seems like a waste considering that the technology is readily available and wouldn’t be too time-expensive in a game.

In the end, how officiating develops really depends on what the people involved, including players, fans, and coaches, feel is worth prioritizing. The NFL is constantly looking to improve its officiating through technology, while soccer and baseball prefer to focus on training better referees. There are obviously plenty of sports that I’ve left out who fall on different parts of this officiating evolution spectrum.

Ultimately, what is consistent across sports is that everyone wants better calls to be made at the end of the day, which means that we will continue to see changes being made no matter the sport. That’s a good thing to keep in mind the next time you get frustrated with a bad call. Although we might have to go through watching the growing pains, we can still appreciate the end product that all sports across the board are working towards, perfect officiating. I have no idea what that would look like (which means it’s probably very far off), but, as a dedicated sports fans, it’ll be nice to see all the changes that come about as a result of that effort.

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