Never Completely Out: Resiliency Runs Deep For Dolphins

Never Completely Out: Resiliency Runs Deep For Dolphins

It began to rain in DeLand, Fla. on the evening of October 28, 2017, right around the time that Jacksonville University women's soccer head coach Brian Copham led his squad onto the grass pitch to warm up.

It was playoff soccer time at Stetson University.

The #3 seeded Hatters were coming off an impressive 2017 season and a win over the Dolphins at home the previous weekend that left JU with a 4-10 regular season mark. Now stepping onto the field as the No. 6 seed in the 2017 ASUN Conference tournament, JU was down to its last hope, and knew it.

The 2006 edition of Jacksonville's women's soccer knew it too, when it entered its respective tournament slotted as No. 5 in the conference. Three unimaginably close games later, they were headed to the NCAA Tournament.

"Peaking at the right time is key, and that's what happened in 2006," Copham said.

Though this year's Dolphin squad has not yet achieved the unlikely success as their 2006 counterparts, both teams share parallels in their seasons that link them together in the spirit of Dolphin resiliency.

"I think it really does give us hope," current senior captain Joëlle d'Entremont commented, upon hearing the story of the 2006 team's run. "Although our record hasn't been great in the regular season and we lost a lot of close games, this just reminds us that when postseason starts it's a new season. Anything can happen, and the team that wants it the most will win."

Coming off a 9-9 regular season showing and a 4-5 mark in a then-crowded ASUN spread, the 2006 team was years removed from success in postseason play. The squad had taken the conference by storm upon entry in 1997, advancing to four title games between 1998 and 2002 and winning it all in 2000.

After missing the tournament all-together in 2003, the team had not seen the same success in previous seasons, entering the tournament as No. 6 and No. 4 seeds, respectively, and falling in the second round both times.

Both team experience tough streaks prior to entering postseason play. The 2006 team experienced four outcomes in which they fell in a one-goal decision, while the 2017 Dolphins have seen it happen eight times.

Perhaps what binds these two lineups together the most, other than the green and white jerseys they don on game day, is how they handled the underdog mentality, and the success they ultimately achieved.

Former Assistant Coach Kate Legidakes (Orr) was a sophomore on the 2006 team, and remembers the situation first hand.

"I remember it being absolutely freezing cold that weekend, and we were playing with a lot of injuries on our roster," Legidakes recalled. "It was amazing that we were able to do what we did. We came in with nothing to lose, because we weren't expected to win." 

Just the third No. 5 seed in ASUN history to advance past the first round, the squad staged the upset of the year in the semifinal round, with a 2-1, overtime victory over top-seeded Kennesaw State. After allowing a goal in the 27th minute, JU went on to tie the game with under two minutes to play, and scored to win almost immediately into overtime.

"We knew that it's hard to beat a team twice," Legidakes said. "By the time we got to overtime we were running off the momentum from the last goal. That game became a culmination of our season."

The win gave the girls enough drive to hold off No. 2 Stetson in the title game, with ASUN First-Team selection Keri Zwikker netting what would be the game-winner in the 19th minute.

Hall of Fame basketball player, Jacksonville legend Artis Gilmore is the university's posterchild for athletic success. His team's 1970 trip to the NCAA National Championship set the standard for defying the odds at JU.

"In 1970, the spirit was alive and well, and that maintains to this day," Gilmore said. "The spirit and desire to drive and win is very much alive in our students and in this program. Our success was about believing in each other and our desire to win, no matter what people thought about us as a school or a team."

"Greatness is a doing a lot of little things well," Coach Copham told his team before taking that rainy field against Stetson on Saturday.

The little things were done well in Jacksonville's ASUN quarterfinal game. The Dolphins held Stetson scoreless in the first half, opening up the door for senior Sope Akindoju to net a pair of goals in the second period.

In the 23-year history of the ASUN Tournament, just six No. 6 seeds have knocked off the No. 3 seed.

Now, as the Dolphins move forward to face No. 2 Florida Gulf Coast in the tournament semifinals this weekend, they'll look to the example of those who came before them, the little things done right, and the resilient spirit to lead them forward.

"The team believes in themselves, the work they've done, and the preparations they've made leading up to this moment," Copham said. "For us, it's now about what it takes to be the best, to go out, success, and have fun."