If you haven’t been there, you can’t know how it feels. To lose something you worked so hard to achieve, knowing you had it in the grasp of your hands, is one of the most painful heartaches a person in this world can feel. In the immediate aftermath, you’re broken, nothing but an empty shell of yourself as you struggle to make your body listen to your commands. You’re frozen in an infirmity caused by despair.
I’ve been there.
When the Ancient was about to fall, a torrent of emotion overwhelmed me as I knew what each and every member of the PSG-LGD organization was about to go through, pain, the likes of which many of the players, coaches, and staff of PSG-LGD have yet to deal with.
You see, three times in my life I have been in the exact same situation as those Dota 2 stalwarts from PSG-LGD.
As an assistant to the United States Women’s National Team Volleyball program and Olympic team, I spent the better part of three years preparing these athletes for the London Games in 2012. Every day from 9am to 12pm and then again from 1pm to 3pm we trained. And these were just my hours. The amazing women in this program showed up an hour and a half early and stayed late, making sure their bodies were in top physical condition. And, yet, that still wasn’t enough. Often times I was asked to stay late serving balls until they got tired. I’ve never been around a group of people who worked harder.
After dominating the world the previous four years, compiling a 108-38 record, Head Coach Hugh McCutcheon and Team USA went into the 2012 London Games as the No. 1 team in the word. We were supposed to win it all—gold. And we put ourselves in the position we needed to win it all.
Getting through pool play without a loss, we entered the playoffs defeating the Dominican Republic in the quarterfinals and Korea in the semis. Having now reached the gold medal match, we would be facing an in your face Brazilian team that seemed they would rather fight you than lose to you. We had already beaten them in pool earlier, and although it gave us a little bit of confidence, being in the here and now was all that mattered. All the pieces were there for an amazing match. One of which we thought we would win. And it looked that way…for a while.
After beating the Brazilians 25-11 in the first set of this best of five, something happened. The South American squad absolutely flipped some kind of switch and would go on to beat us in convincing fashion 25-17, 25-20, 25-17.
Players and coaches may put on a good face when talking to the media, but I know that watching Brazil jump up on the referee stand, screaming and waving their arms will be a scene I’ll never forget.
It hurt, but it wasn’t the first time.
Let me take you back even further in time when I was an assistant coach at Northern Michigan University from 1991-1993.
In 1991, we finished first in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletics Conference with a 15-1 record and made it to the playoffs where we ended losing to Portland State University. And while this hurt, the fact that we lost in the quarterfinals somehow was different from what would transpire next season.
We were stacked. 1992 was the year for Northern Michigan University. We were going to win it all! We had convinced ourselves nobody could stop us. A 34-3 record told the world we were for real. Finishing first once again in the GLIAC, we came into the NCAA Division II National Championships with a chip on our shoulder.
After dispatching Northern Colorado and West Texas State in the quarters and semis, we were once again faced with Portland State, and this time, in their gym.
We were up two games to one and had a 6-2 lead in the fourth game. If we just played like we had been all night, we would be crowned National Champions. It wasn’t to be.
Portland State’s crowd went into a frenzy. I remember not being able to call out plays because the crowd was so loud. The players couldn’t hear anything I was saying. Our coach couldn’t even get a timeout called during game five during a pivotal time in the match. We lost game four, but had the lead in the deciding game five 10-9. However, Portland State would score the next six points in a row.
Portland State 1992 National Champions.
This was the first time I ever cried in relationship to wins or losses while participating as a player or coach in an athletic competition–and those tears were justified. We had spent all of our time training, giving up our free summer to work volleyball camps and play during the intermissions in order to reach the pinnacle of women’s volleyball. We were failures, we didn’t get it done. Well, that’s how we felt then, but later I’d finally realize what competition is all about. I’ll share that with you in a moment.
As an aside, Growing up in the 80’s, I used to think that crying was a sign of weakness, but have since crafted my own view as to what it is. Shedding a tear or crying isn’t weakness, it shows a degree of caring about something so much that it illicits this powerful emotional response.
I was sitting on our bench, frozen, playbook in hand when the entire Portland State crowd rushed the court. Nobody said anything derogatory, but certainly made eye contact with me as if to say, how does that feel? All I remember is an intense feeling of hopelessness and loss. No words can truly describe what it feels like.
The next day nobody wanted to move. We grabbed all of our stuff and made our way to the airport. It was time to go back to Marquette.
But A funny thing happened on our way back to NMU.
When we arrived back in Marquette, we were greeted at the airport by about 400 people all yelling and cheering and holding signs. We were given a police escort back to the University where a rally was being held for us on our home court. But we lost, why are people cheering?
Because we were their team.
While there are some fair weather fans out there that only think in wins and losses, the majority of fans out there are invested not only in their favorite players, but the university itself. We were the embodiment of the university and everything that was good about it. We had reached the pinnacle match in our sport and although we didn’t win, our fans watched how we represented us and them after the loss. I know in my heart we gave everything we had, emotionally and physically. We had nothing left to give except to go through the handshake line after the match and represent our community with the class and respect it deserves. We did that–and they noticed.
There wasn’t a dry eye in the place. We did not expect the community to rally around us. We lost.
Wow, were we wrong.
The very next year, we won the whole damn thing–for our fans who never quit on us.
*Disclaimer: VPEsports is a Washington State based esports news media company funded by VPGame.