Archive for Tuesday, November 19, 2002

Local merchants backing soccer club

November 19, 2002

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Not that anyone is wringing their hands in trepidation or issuing nervous rationalizations, but the Big 12 Conference is the official black hole of NCAA menâÂÂs varsity soccer.

Not a single Big 12 school sponsors menâÂÂs varsity soccer. All of the other major conferences - Big 10, Southeastern, Pac-10, Big East, ACC - have at least a few athletic departments funding menâÂÂs soccer.

In fact, the NCAA lists 202 Division One schools with menâÂÂs varsity soccer programs - a number that surprised me because itâÂÂs about two-thirds of the schools in the NCAAâÂÂs top division.

Kansas University has never funded a menâÂÂs soccer program and in the era of Title IX itâÂÂs safe to say KU never will. Kansas officials will convert Allen Fieldhouse into a sow barn before they will add another varsity sport for males.

Members of Kansas UniversityâÂÂs non-varsity menâÂÂs soccer team concede the inevitable. They arenâÂÂt complaining.

âÂÂWe donâÂÂt care about sanctioning,â said Cedric Sunray, one of the tri-captains of the KU menâÂÂs soccer team.

In the world of menâÂÂs college soccer, there are sanctioned (varsity) teams and there are club teams. KU fits into the latter category along with a whole bunch of others âÂÂ:quot; so many, in fact, that the âÂÂclubbiesâ have their own national tournament.

This isnâÂÂt news to many - perhaps most - Lawrence merchants who have been blitzed over the last couple of weeks by KU menâÂÂs soccer club members who have solicited funds to help pay their way to the soccer fields of Cal State-Bakersfield, site of this weekendâÂÂs 16-team NIRSA Collegiate Soccer Sports Club Championships.

âÂÂThe community was beyond great for us,â Sunray said. âÂÂWe were asking for $1 or $5 and places like Midwest Graphics and Dale Willey and others wrote us $100 checks. We raised $1,500 on the streets in two days.âÂÂ

By pounding the storefronts, KU menâÂÂs soccer players were able to secure a charter motor coach to whisk them halfway across the country in a mere 25 hours or so. TheyâÂÂre scheduled to depart this morning, arrive in Bakersfield on Wednesday afternoon, hit the fields for practice on Wednesday evening, then begin pool play on Thursday.

They wonâÂÂt have to sleep in tents or on the streets of Bakersfield, either. They raised enough dollars to stay in a motel.

So how good is the KU menâÂÂs club soccer team? Well, they had to qualify for the national tournament. ItâÂÂs not one of those invitational deals where if you can afford to show up theyâÂÂll let you play.

Kansas compiled a 14-2-3 record while outscoring its opponents, 59-15. (Looks like the score of an average KU football defeat, doesnâÂÂt it?). So, yeah, these footballers are pretty good.

Where do KUâÂÂs players come from? All over and right here. Sunray, a defender, is from Louisiana and played at Haskell. Nick Ens is Free State HighâÂÂs career scoring leader. Aaron Law, another captain, came to KU originally for track.

However, the acknowledged standout of the KU team is also the player with the longest name - El Hadji Oumar Seck, a native of Senegal who has accumulated 13 goals and 13 assists in KUâÂÂs 19 games, numbers which Sunray says are âÂÂalmost irrational.âÂÂ

One of SeckâÂÂs closest friends on campus, incidentally, is another native of Senegal - basketball player Moulaye Niang, a 6-foot-10 freshman. Seck isnâÂÂt that tall, but he stands about 6-6, a height that isnâÂÂt all that unusual on the KU soccer team.

âÂÂWe are a tall team,â said Sunray, who is 6-5. âÂÂWhen we were in Texas, I had two people come up to me and say, âÂÂ'Is Kirk Hinrich with you?âÂÂâÂÂ

Heck, Hinrich stands a mere 6-3.

Hard telling, but Kansas may be the only team headed for the menâÂÂs soccer club nationals that doesnâÂÂt have a home field. With KUâÂÂs Shenk recreation fields closed for renovation this fall, the menâÂÂs soccer team has played most home games at the Youth Sports Inc. fields. It played one game at Broken Arrow Park, spray-painting lines on the grass.

âÂÂShenkâÂÂs fields will be really nice next year,â Sunray said, âÂÂand itâÂÂll be great if we can put up signs there saying weâÂÂre the regional and national champions.âÂÂ

Great because, as Sunray said: âÂÂWe donâÂÂt do this for fun. We do it to win the national championship.âÂÂ

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