CHICKASHA — The fact that the Drovers enter the NAIA Men’s Soccer National Championship Opening Round undefeated for the first time in school history doesn’t have an effect on Coach Jimmy Hampton or his coaching staff.
“The way we view it is it’s a new season and both teams are 0-0,” he explained. “You have to win to get here, but at this point records do not matter as it’s win or go home.”
USAO earned the opportunity to make history by hosting the national event. The Opening Round game, which will be against Grand View University from Iowa, is scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday on Hampton Field at Chickasha High School.
“I am excited for USAO to get to host and thankful to CHS for letting us use their facilities,” Hampton said. “We are hoping to pack the place with 1,500 Drover fans for this unique event.”
Tickets for the game will be $4 for adults and $3 for students. Students with a valid USAO or CHS ID will get in for just $2, while children under 12 can enter for free.
USAO Athletic Department is offering free tickets to the first 50 USAO students at the game.
“I think we’re pretty confident,” said Scott Parkinson, a junior defender. “We know that a few teams have taken us close to beating us in regulation time, but all in all, we know we are tough to beat. We just have to continue to work on our game plan that has been given to us since day one and keep striving to improve.”
This is the fourth year in a row the Drover men (13-0-4) have earned an invite to the national tournament, but the first year to host the event.
The GVU Vikings (9-7-2) enter the tournament having won the Midwest Collegiate Conference Championship. This is their eighth trip to the NAIA National Tournament.
“We need to control the rhythm of the game and dictate the pace we play at. We will want to play very fast for 90 minutes — the faster the game the better for us,” Hampton said. “We have to match their toughness. They are a very gritty team.”
The winner of the game will advance to the 2012 NAIA Men’s Soccer National Championship presented by Carrabba’s Italian Grill final site in Montgomery, Ala.
“Everyone is ready. The attitude is good. Everyone is excited to play under the lights,” USAO goalkeeper Bryan Byars said. “With this game, we know if we lose, we are done for sure. There’s a lot of weight on this game. Everyone wants to play to their best ability and go to Alabama.”
The two teams have shared three opponents this season in Midland University, Hastings College and Oklahoma Baptist. The Drovers went 2-0-1 against those teams while the Vikings went 1-2.
Grand View also faced now No. 1 Lindsey Wilson last month at a neutral site and fell just 2-1.
Hampton said he doesn’t get into the business of comparing scores because he focuses more on the match up.
The Drovers and Vikings share some common ground when it comes to soccer. Both teams are dominated by players from the United Kingdom, are fit and disciplined and defend well as a team, according to Hampton.
“They are very similar to us,” he said. “We will have to control them on set pieces and own the air.”
The Drovers success this season may have a lot to do with the coaching style this season, which Hampton describes as a “back to the basics” approach.
“It’s what got us here,” he said. “We don’t want the boys to forget what put them in this position, and it is being fundamentally technically sound, defending and attacking as 11, valuing the ball, limiting the turnovers and working for each other.”
Parkinson echoed Hampton’s idea of sticking with what has worked. As a seasoned vet on the team, Parkinson said he’s going to tell the younger players just to play like normal in this big game.
“I’m going to ask them to continue to be the same, to respect Grand View for who they are but not feel inferior to them in any way,” he said.
The Drovers enter the game still technically undefeated, even though they didn’t advance past the Sooner Athletic Conference Quarterfinals. Tying Oklahoma City 1-1 after two overtimes, the game ended as a tie, but OCU advanced after knocking in five penalty kicks to USAO’s four.
“After the game, we had the players turn their gear in and gave them five days off,” Hampton explained. “We wanted them to know the feeling of checking in their kits and being done, so they would value more their chance at a ‘do over.’”
Having felt the stab of defeat for the first time all season, the players are now ready to go on and compete with the best the country has to offer and see just where they measure up.
“We didn’t play well. We did not compete and represent ourselves, our teammates or our university with the work ethic we are known for,” Hampton said. “It will be a different story on Saturday night. Sometimes one loss is more valuable than 100 wins in teaching young players to value every opportunity to compete and take nothing for granted.”