Friday, November 13, 2009

The three guys who know what it’s like to beat no. 1

As the coaches of the only three Hofstra teams to defeat the no. 1 team in the country, Bill Edwards, Tom Shifflet and Seth Tierney will be watching with particular interest tonight as Tom Pecora tries to join their exclusive club when he leads the Flying Dutchmen into Allen Fieldhouse and a game with top-ranked Kansas.

Edwards was the first Hofstra coach to make history Feb. 13, 2000—way back when the Flying Dutchwomen were officially known as the Flying Dutchwomen—when the softball team stunned UCLA, 10-5, during an early season tournament in Hawaii. Shifflet wasted little time in making an impact during his first season at the helm of the wrestling program as Hofstra edged no. 1 Minnesota, 18-17, Nov. 25, 2006 in Shifflet’s fourth match as head coach. And Tierney became the third Hofstra coach to steer his team past the no. 1 team in the land Mar, 8, 2008, when the Flying Dutchmen lacrosse team upset Johns Hopkins, 8-7, in overtime at Shuart Stadium.

All three teams were fortunate to get off to a fast start and then withstand a series of rallies. In 2000, the Dutchwomen bolted out to a 10-1 lead after three innings and actually had a chance to win the game in the sixth inning via the 10-run rule but left the bases loaded. The wrestling team won the first two bouts and five of the first seven against Minnesota while the lacrosse team took a quick 2-0 lead against Hopkins.

“In wrestling, you want to try and get the momentum—if the guy before you gets the win and the two guys before you are getting the big wins, it’ll pump you up a little bit to try to [keep] the ball rolling on your side,” Shifflet said. “You do want to try and get that momentum going and try to keep it, because the team that doesn’t have the momentum, those other guys may start [feeling] a little bit flat and it’s contagious.”

“If you’re playing the no. 1 team against the number one team, they’ve got the ability to play very loose with the lead,” Tierney said. “[But if] you can get out after the first time out [tonight] and Hofstra is up or it’s a close game, Tom Pecora could say ‘Hey, all right, we’re here. Enough already. Let’s go.’ It’s a huge, huge mental [advantage] when you can go into a building that’s going to be pretty wild and throw a couple punches early and knock them back [and say] this team is not going away.”

Getting off to a fast start assures nothing, of course, and Edwards and Tierney, in particular, found it as challenging to maintain a lead as it was to grab it. “Even though we had jumped out to a 10-1 lead, [UCLA] totally thought that they were going to win the game,” Edwards said. “They were so confident that I think it hurt them, because they just thought we were going to fold under the pressure.”

UCLA loaded the bases with none out in the fourth inning, at which point Edwards pulled starter Jen Smith in favor of Kelly Blois, who limited the Bruins to two runs. Blois then withstood back to back homers by UCLA in the seventh inning to close out the upset.

Johns Hopkins, meanwhile, came back to take the lead later in the first quarter and came back from a 6-3 deficit to twice tie the game in the second half and force overtime in the last two minutes.

“When you play the number one team in the country you know that Johns Hopkins is going to go on a run,” Tierney said. “Mentally, you have to be able to take the run. We were fortunate to do that and hang on and get a win versus a number one team in the country.”

The most important thing for Pecora and the Flying Dutchmen tonight, all three men agreed, is to try and treat the game like any other, don’t be intimidated by Kansas’ reputation and believe Hofstra deserves to be on the same floor as the Jayhawks.

“Gotta have fun, and that’s easier said than done.” Tierney said. “Don’t let it get crazy. I know that the guys are going to be psyched and fired up. He’s got a great program and I wish him well.”

“These guys, if we’re wrestling, they’re in the same weight class, and if I’m stepping on the scale, he’s flesh and blood just like me,” Shifflet said. “We’ve got to go out there with that mentality that I prepared and I can win. We wrestle consistently and we wrestle everybody the same way.”

“We just prepare our team as best as we can to play,” Edwards said. “Against the no. 1 team or the no. 400 team, it doesn’t make any difference. We always have the confidence that if we play well enough, we can beat anybody. And we don’t let the name on the front of the jersey have any influence at all on our preparation or to our philosophies.

“It’s like Hoosiers, where you walk into the gym and measure the rim. It’s 10 feet. And you measure the court, it’s 94 by 50. You just block everything out and go play your game.”

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