ROBERTS SAHAYDAK’S DARING OLYMPIC DREAM

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Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak says watching the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles inspired her own Olympic dreams.

Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak isn’t afraid to go out on a limb. By the time she was six years old, she had already proudly declared that she wanted to be an Olympian.

It was the summer of 1984 in Northern California, and just about six hours down the pike were Los Angeles and the Olympics. At her family’s home in San Ramon, Roberts Sahaydak became captivated by the athletes on her television. Something about the world’s greatest athletes competing in the world’s most prestigious competition sparked her desire.

“It just lit a little fire or something,” said Roberts Sahaydak, co-head coach of the VCU Women’s Soccer team. “From that Olympics on, that was always my go-to thing. When someone would ask, ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’[It was always] ‘oh, I’m going to be an Olympian.”

Roberts Sahaydak says she was wowed by American gymnast Mary Lou Retton’s perfect 10 and the star power of track and field’s Jackie Joyner-Kersee. The Roberts family even traveled to the Bay Area to take in a men’s soccer game, feeding little Tiffany’s growing interest. Tiffany was a gymnast. Tiffany ran track. She also played soccer.

In grade school, when asked to draw a picture of what she would grow up to be, Roberts Sahaydak would dream of Olympic glory. One particular school project displayed an oversized gold medal, as well as three little Tiffanys, each competing in a different sport, track, gymnastics and soccer.

“I just wanted to be the best at something, and I wanted to have that gold medal,” she said.

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AND ANOTHER THING…

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Co-Head Coaches Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak and Tim Sahaydak have led the Rams back to the CAA Tournament for the first time since 2007.

I didn’t want to bog down yesterday’s women’s soccer story with a separate tangent on defense and depth, but I did want to comment on their importance this season.

The Rams were still very good defensively when they opened the season 2-7-1, so while that side of the field isn’t necessarily the source of VCU’s midseason turnaround, it’s certainly a big part of its overall success. In addition, depth is a huge element of that.

VCU has allowed just 14 goals in 18 matches this season, including seven shutouts. The Rams’ 0.78 goals allowed per game average is second only to William & Mary in the Colonial Athletic Association. The Black and Gold’s stinginess is due in large part to a sound tactical philosophy of high-pressure, 11-player defense, but Co-Head Coaches Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak and Tim Sahaydak, make it clear that X’s and O’s aren’t enough.

“We were both defenders and so we take pride in our defense,” Roberts Sahaydak said of her and her husband, Tim. “You don’t’ need talent to be a good defender. Defense is a decision.”

What the Rams weren’t doing particularly well early in the season was scoring goals themselves. In their first 10 matches, VCU scored nine goals. In the last eight, in which VCU is 6-0-2, the Rams have outscored the opposition, 12-2.

But the Rams’ productivity on defense, and offense, for that matter, also has a lot to do with their newfound depth. The size and health of the VCU roster was a problem area the last two seasons. There were a number of matches where the Rams only had two or three available reserves, but this season VCU is carrying 29 players on its roster.

“In a league where teams play Friday/Sunday, it’s very difficult to do that without depth,” Tim says. “Depth also allows us to have more productive training sessions. We can play 11 versus 11 in practice now. We haven’t been able to do that in the past.”

SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF

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Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak found inspiration in the book, Soup, by Jon Gordon

On the morning of Oct. 23, Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak received a text message from one of her soccer players, Kristin Carden. The Rams were hours from their biggest match of the season, a contest against 18th-ranked and once-beaten William & Mary, and the senior goalkeeper had a point to make.

Carden had been inspired by a YouTube video called “212: The Extra Degree”. The decidedly low-tech video begins by stating that at 211 degrees, water is hot, but at 212 degrees it boils. It continues, “And with boiling water comes steam. And steam can power a locomotive.” Similar motivational anecdotes follow, but the message remains the same: The margin of victory can be minute, so a little extra effort can be the difference between winning and losing. It’s all in the details.

Carden received permission to play the video for the team prior to the game, and the Rams responded by stunning the Tribe 1-0 to vault into second place in the Colonial Athletic Association. The win also clinched a CAA Tournament berth, VCU’s first since 2007, and punctuated the Rams’ dramatic turnaround.

The Rams are 7-7-4 as they head into Friday’s Senior Day contest with James Madison at SportsBackers Stadium and are unbeaten in eight-matches. VCU’s last loss was a 1-0 defeat at Hofstra on Sept. 25. They’ve managed to string together so much success by stressing the details. They’re sweating the small stuff, if you will. Now, for the first time in years, the Rams are a contender for the CAA crown.

“Almost every game we’ve played this year, the margin of victory was so small, a lot of times it comes down to mentality,” says Roberts Sahaydak’s husband and co-head coach, Tim Sahaydak. “I can recall games that we won and lost this year that have come down to the closing minutes of the game and it’s come down to effort and perseverance more than individual technical ability or a tactical understanding of the game.”

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