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Perspective: by Jerry Pyle
Up From The Depths, Sort Of
It was a pretty good week for Cobber Sports. The Cobber football and volleyball teams won. The women's cross country team lived up to their national ranking. And the women's soccer team, now 5-0, romped again.
The buoyant attitude surrounding this women's soccer team just keeps growing. A group of delightful and talented young women, led by seniors Sara Pittorf and Kris Olson, and junior Deb Idstrom, all of whom have struggled through several dismal seasons, are basking in the joy of winning some games.
After going 2-13 last year, 5-23 over the past two seasons, the 1990 Cobber women's soccer team, with a healthy dose of help from an outstanding freshman class, is off to their best start ever. By far.
Their transformation from doormat to contender has infused them and their well-liked, third-year coach, Dean Hashbarger, with a certain giddy quality. And it couldn't happen to a nicer group of people.
Women's soccer at Concordia has been one of those rare programs that has somehow always managed to be considered a success, even when they were regularly getting shelled on the playing field. The team has been filled with model student-athletes. As representatives of the college, they have conducted themselves with dignity and class. And they never gave up on each other as people or the hope of winning.
This team managed to keep its spirit and cohesiveness in circumstances that would have torn teams of lesser character to shreds.
A lot is made, perhaps deservedly so, of the team spirit and sense of cooperation that generally pervades the Cobbers' perennial athletic success stories, like the football program, Bucky Burgau's baseball teams, and the Lady Cobber basketball teams.
But it's a whole lot easier to be one big happy family when you're winning than when you're losing. The women's soccer team managed to do it when they were losing.
Not that they enjoyed losing. "Hashbarger kept telling us to be proud when we played our best, win or lose,"
says Olson. "But, I'll admit, there were a lot of times when I would have preferred playing bad and winning on a flukey goal over playing well and losing."
Winning has its own momentum. Winning makes players feel confident, and confident players play better. Winning attracts recruits who want to be part of a success story and are not afraid of the competition for playing time.
An expectation of winning increases the odds of winning.
When you're winning, the inevitable screw-ups and foibles of teammates become just material for good-natured teasing and inside jokes.
Losing also has it's own momentum, usually agonizingly difficult to break. The best prospective athletes are often scared off by the thought of being part of a "loser." Those screw-ups and idiosyncrasies that are so funny on a winning team become fodder for alienation and recrimination when a team is losing. Petty disagreements get magnified into team-wrenching conflicts. And everyone on the team starts looking for the season to just be over.
Olson, Pittorf, and Idstrom never let that happen on their women's soccer team. Though their record might have indicated they were in the depths, they never really were.
"The thing that really kept us going and getting along was the fact that our teammates were also our best friends," says Olson. "When people would start getting discouraged and down, we would hold a players-only meeting, talk things out, and then get on with trying to win the next game. And we stayed friends."
Olson and Pittorf are the captains of this team. And a brief chat with them is enough to make it clear they deserve their titles.
Olson, from Fargo, is confident, articulate and thoughtful. A small cut over her right eye is the only outward sign that she is also tough and unyielding on the soccer field. One has little trouble imagining Kris, a health care administration major, being in charge of a well-run hospital, with the doctors doing exactly what she tells them to do.
Off the field, Sara Pittorf, from Burnsville, doesn't look like an exceptional athlete. Her floppy dark hair hangs over eyes that seem to dance around the room. Her frame looks too frail for something as bruising as soccer.
But then you see her on the field and all your impressions change. Her speed, intensity, grace and feel for the game have made her the best Cobber player for the past three years. She's been an all-MIAC player twice, no small feat when your team is 5-23 over two years.
Deb Idstrom, from New Hope, is the third member of the Cobber triumvirate. Deb is effervescent, with a smile that could melt an iceberg. She is also one of the best athletes on campus. Idstrom was named all-MIAC in 1989 on a team that was 1-7 in league play.
Kris, Sara, and Deb have been a talented core on teams that worked hard but were not deep enough to win. Now that core has gotten a whole lot bigger. And they could post the first-ever winning season for Cobber women's soccer.
When questioned as to reason for his successful recruiting year, Hashbarger grins and says, "I just have them go meet Deb (Idstrom). She introduces the recruits to the other players. A few hours later it's a done deal."
Don't ask Kris, Sara, and Deb to name the top rookies.
They just get into an argument. They eventually will tell you there are ten, the exact number of rookies on the roster. Then they mention the improved play of the returning players. Then they smile like kids on Christmas morning.
When asked what their goals are, now that they know they have a good chance to win whenever they take the field, Pittorf responded, with dead seriousness, "We'll take it one game at a time."
They may have only recently learned to talk like contenders. But these women have been winners for a long, long time.
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