Complacency can be a dangerous emotion for any athletics team. A team, successful or unsuccessful can easily become comfortable in its role in a sport and this can lead to an underperformance at any level. Such may be the story of the 2008-2009 iteration of Delaware Sideshow.
After making consistent appearances at UPA College Nationals for the last have of the 2000s Sideshow missed out not only on Nationals but Metro East Regionals as well. The team became complacent in its place as a leader of the Colonial Section and, in two quick games, UDel was toppled and a team that expected to go to Nationals, was sent home packing.
“We had a very humbling experience last year,” Delaware captain Sean Keegan wrote us in an e-mail. “We were hurt, like many other northeast teams, by not being able to compete in a whole tournament from Queens City until Sectionals and we suffered from inconsistency as a result. That coupled with some overconfidence and a lack of experience responding to adversity due to barely playing any games was a recipe for disaster. We brought a core of players to the table who had experienced success at Nationals, including one of the more shocking upsets of the past few years, but we fell flat on our faces and became a case study in the parity that exists in the Colonial Section and the Metro East as a whole. Long story short, it sucked. A lot.”
While last season’s team is gone and likely to be soon forgotten in the annals of Delaware Ultimate, this season’s team has benefited from the loss. The team took it upon itself to erase the memories of last year’s shortcomings by beginning its work in the April of 2009, and not stopping until all the disappointments of the previous season were lost and gone forever.
“We are a hungry team that’s been working since April 2009 to get another shot,” Keegan wrote. “With a bunch of senior/5th year players (making Nationals this year) means even more to us.”
However, Keegan’s aware that it will take more than just drive to make it to Madison this season. Delaware has to compete in one of the most top heavy Regions in the nation in order to punch its ticket to Madison this summer. In between Sideshow and the big show stand last year’s two National representatives from the Metro East Region, Cornell and Pitt. While Delaware has three of the last four Metro East Regional titles, Keegan insists that the emergence of Pitt and Cornell to the National scene doesn’t show anything that Delaware didn’t already know.
“I wouldn’t say that Pitt and Cornell have gained ground on us,” Keegan wrote. “Pittsburgh has been the cream of the Metro East crop for some time. From ’06-’08 when Delaware won the Region in 3 consecutive years, we were not the No. 1 seed in any of those years. So it’s tough to say teams have really “gained ground” on us, when we just seem to play well at the right time of the year.”
On that note, Keegan and company have nothing but respect and appreciation for the work that Cornell and Pittsburgh have been doing throughout the regular season this year. Delaware is also quick to remind itself and the other top dogs of the caution that they need to have going towards a tough Regional tournament later this year.
“Pitt and Cornell have certainly made some significant trips this year to face some top tier National competition and have had some great results which makes you proud as a member of their Region,” Keegan wrote. “But in the end, all three of us will be fighting it out with the 16 teams that make Regionals just to go to Madison.”
All three of the top teams in the Metro East have a chance to get a little preview of what Regionals will hold for them later this year at College Easterns in Wilmington, N.C. this weekend. Cornell, Pitt and Delaware are all in attendance and while a win or two over their Regional neighbors would be valuable, Keegan does not mince words over what is most important about this trip for Sideshow.
“We’d love to pick up the wins and the experience against (Pitt and Cornell),” Keegan wrote. “Wins against Regional rivals are great but I think all three teams would agree that the reason we make these trips out of the Metro East to get a shot at out of Regional competition. That and to get away from the wind rain and snow.”
The driving force behind Delaware taking advantage of opportunities to improve against out of Region competition are those same upper classmen who were so disappointed by last year’s Sectional exit. Among them are Keegan, a player whose presence can change the game from anywhere on the field, Michael Albani, who, according to Keegan, “does all the dirty work to keep the offense moving” and Clay Heinzel-Nelson, a junior who took a year off of Ultimate last year but, according to Keegan, is “making a seamless transition into one of our o-line cutters.”
Delaware is bringing a smaller team to Easterns due to the fact that its spring break is starting this weekend but Keegan expects the team to bring a fire that it was lacking last season into this tournament and the rest of the season.
“We look forward to the challenge of every game,” Keegan wrote.