Jim Amidon — The Wabash College soccer team had a strange schedule this year. The Little Giants played only eight home games, but they came in bunches — they opened the year with two straight home games then played four of the last five at Mud Hollow Field.
In the middle was a stretch of 12 games during which they played at home exactly twice over the course of six weeks.
That would be a brutal schedule for a veteran team. Coach Roberto Giannini, however, had a very young team in this 2008 season.
The team’s three leading scorers were all freshmen. There were games this year when Coach Giannini started eight rookies at 11 positions.
And while soccer novices will say that the high school and college fields are the same size and the rules are largely the same, there is a very big difference in the pace of the game and the skill level of the players — even at the Division III, non-scholarship level.
Giannini’s troops learned and grew as a team in the line of fire with little in the way of home crowd support.
The future of Wabash soccer is indeed bright. The team graduates just four seniors, so while the season ended just two days ago, Coach Giannini will hit the recruiting trail knowing his nucleus is intact and with a full head of steam.
Giannini is a native of Italy and is full of passion and emotion for the game of soccer. You can see it in his eyes, hear it in his voice, and witness it at practice and on game days.
Yet in spite of his off-the-charts passion for the game, he is even more passionate about the players themselves. He’d like to win, sure, but he’s more interested in working closely with his players as they learn valuable life lessons from the game they all love.
This was a season full of such lessons. The Wabash soccer team had a record of four wins, five losses, and two ties when tragedy rocked the campus the day after Homecoming. His team is peppered with freshman players who either lived with or were close to the young man who died.
Somehow, Coach Giannini helped them gut through a 3-3 tie on the road two days later before the emotional bottom fell out. The team would not only lose its next three games, it would lose them by a combined score of 15-1.
That’s why my heart filled with pride when the Little Giants came home on October 18 and beat a scrappy Franklin team 1-0. One goal was over-ruled late in the second half, but the team stayed focused and came back to boot the game-winner and snap a long losing streak.
Overcoming long odds. Playing as a team. Relying on teammates as brothers. Persevering in the face of overwhelming adversity. Staying focused. Playing with mind, body, and heart.
Those are the lessons that the young Little Giants learned in the 2008 soccer season. Coach Giannini and his great assistant Jeff Oleck are to be commended — not so much as coaches — but as teachers.
The overall win-loss record indicates improvement over past years, but moreover it represents promise for the future. Having endured the most difficult few months of their lives, the Wabash players grew enormously as a team and as people.
And unlike the wins and losses, the lessons learned this year will stay with these Wabash men all the days of their lives.