Friday, April 24, 2009

Practice Winning EverydayEvery year just before the start of Lent, a period of 40 days characterized by sacrifice and piety, Catholics (and now revelers in general) blow a giant wad of sin as a way of purging their urges until Easter passes. This was a time to clear the pantry of forbidden foods and drinks, and to party without restraint before their religion's business time: the most important days of their calendar. Around the world cities have great Carnivals, Rio Di Janeiro's being one of the most decadent and debaucherous. In the US, the most well-known festivities happen in New Orleans, capped by Mardi Gras the day before Ash Wednesday.

I mention these traditional party purges because the Hodags defended their sectional crown for the millionth time in a row this past weekend. Although several area teams have really come into their own recently, the tournament is still the Hodags' playground. And it's been a tradition since I started playing for the team to act ballistic with general tomfoolery for all but the last couple of games.

Wait, time out...who here saw March of the PenguinsWith winters here being harsh, unpredictable, and often overstaying their welcome well into April, the few weeks before the series begins are the longest served. Midterms come, and final exams begin calling, graduating seniors are packed with job interviews and planning festivities, and several months of non-stop training begin to wear on the stamina of the team, but everyone knows the culmination of all this work, another shot at a title, is at hand. Saturday of sectionals has become the Hodags' own Carnival of sorts, one final weekend to play and goof off with the team, taking nothing seriously, before putting their heads down and accelerating with a kick in a business-like manner till Sunday of Natties.

This year the team was in full regalia, cross dressers and hillbillies, penguins and gorillas; Dan Park even came in the most spot-on Douchebag costume I have ever seen. The weather held as long as it needed to for the grill to fire up and distribute dozens of brats and dogs, and a giant water tank held enough Donkey Punch to knock out an actual donkey. The 'Dags frolicked through the weekend and emerged victorious, and hopefully mentally rested. In two days time they'll play against Carleton in a game that could go either way, and from now until Memorial Day they're punching the time-clock and getting to work.

With the Hodags firmly under control, I spent some sideline time with the B-team. With the loss of many of their ranks to the refueling Hodags at the beginning of the year, they're as young as they have been in some time, and with area teams improving, their shot at Regionals was by no means a sure thing. A brutal blunder by UW-Whitewater got them disqualified and meant there was one less team to get past, but it still wouldn't be easy. As I left the fields on Saturday en route to Riley's, my sister's, and my birthday party, the Pimpdags were locking horns with UW-Milwaukee. The two teams were evenly matched, weather was beginning to set in, and with the Hodags done for the day the sidelines swelled.

JFo and his package approveThe Hodags put aside any heckling in favor of helpful field talk, and with so many watching, the intensity of the game picked up. Both teams were playing with their season essentially on the line, and every point was contested. This was by far my favorite game of the weekend. It's great for both the Pimpdags and Milwaukee Blackcats to play in a high-intensity atmosphere, and feel the pressure of a real crowd with high stakes. As the Pimpdags' coaching and depth helped them pull away, Blackcat fought hard and conceded nothing. A few unforced errors late in the game, with their handlers feeling both the wind and pressure beginning to pick up, allowed the Pimpdags to secure the victory, but Milwaukee has no reason to hang their head. Ian Nifoussi showed leadership for his squad, and little up-and comer Steve Jansen showed heart larger than his frame. I look forward to seeing their program gain traction and grow.

Tonight, the drive into the lions' den. The circle-jerking, pocket-protector wearing, band-camp wannabe lions' den. See you in Northfield. I'll be twittering better than Ellsworth will be broadcasting at ektor_jr.