RICHMOND, Va. – On the first road trip of the year, a 640-mile roundtrip jaunt to Piscataway, N.J., the VCU Field Hockey team committed an act so heinous, it could have derailed the entire season.
They forgot to bring movies.
“I think they were okay, but for us coaches, it was awful,” lamented first-year head coach Shannon Karl.
The DVD oversight was forgiven, but not forgotten. Player itineraries for subsequent trips were amended to include “movies” in bold lettering under the necessary items checklist. It’s hardly a trivial request. When you’re on the road as much as VCU this season, you’ve got to do something.
Of VCU’s 17 matches this season, including one scrimmage, 13 have been played on the road. In all, the Rams have logged a staggering 4,700 miles and 95 hours in bus travel. That’s nearly enough mileage to drive from Richmond to Darwin, Minn. – home of the World’s Largest Ball of Twine – and back, twice. They’ve become so acquainted with their bus driver (David, in case you were curious), that he attends their home matches as a fan now.
The Rams’ unbalanced schedule is a direct result of VCU’s swift move from the Colonial Athletic Association to the Atlantic 10 Conference over the summer. The Rams had traditionally scheduled a number of A-10 teams for non-conference matches and had to fill those dates quickly when the school announced its intention to leave the CAA in May. In the end, the field hockey team was left with just six home contests this season; that, and ample bus time.
Karl, who stresses that next year’s schedule will look dramatically different (read: more home matches), admits that she stopped unpacking her bags after road trips. Instead, she would just empty her laundry into the washing machine and repack directly from the dryer.
That much travel has also led the coaching staff to employ some creative tactics, like scheduled stops for “body warm-ups” in restaurant parking lots to keep the players loose.
“The people parking, everyone just stares,” says senior Kelsey Scherrer. “You just see a bunch of girls in matching outfits doing jumping jacks and lunges across the parking lot. It’s a very strange sight. Cars slow down from 15 miles an hour to two miles an hour. It’s a trip.”
“We’re all in uniform doing little hops and skips. It’s really cute,” senior Melanie Marotta jokes. “But it helps. It really does.”
All that road time, which included an 840-mile weekend voyage to Philadelphia, then Lynchburg, Va., as well as an 805-mile expedition to Lock Haven, Pa. and, again, Philadelphia, had its drawbacks. Yes, 100 hours of bus travel can have drawbacks.
Study time can be limited or just plain difficult on the road, so players needed to be judicious about their focus on academics. Nonetheless, the field hockey team has maintained one of the top grade point averages of VCU’s athletic programs.
“I think everybody had one away trip where they were like, ‘oh my god, get me off of this bus,’” Marotta said.
To combat boredom, players could kill time with a combination of the following: reading, watching movies, listening to music and sleeping, followed by reading, watching movies, listening to music and sleeping. Bus surfing is not currently legal, and paintball isn’t recommended.
Despite the inherent roadblocks, VCU’s field hockey nomads have tried to make the best of the situation. VCU is 11-5 this year, including an 8-4 mark away from Cary Street Field. Those 11 victories are the second-most for the program since 1993. Karl believes her team’s demeanor has played a critical role in weathering the road.
“There was nothing we could do about it,” Karl said of the Rams’ schedule. “It is what it is. There were no complaints. We were going to take that as a challenge and take on a road warrior mentality and use it to have a little bit of a chip on our shoulder, and I think they did that really, really well.”
“If you sit there and dwell on it…it’s going to affect you mentally,” she said. “I think when the schedule came out and we saw we only had six home games, we couldn’t sit there and complain about it because there’s nothing that we could do to change our schedule.”
Another possible contributing factor to the Rams’ turf toughness is team chemistry. No VCU team has been forced to spend more hours together than this group. On the road, players are usually assigned a roommate at random. If you’ve ever wanted to get to know somebody better, try sharing a room with them.
“Just as friends we’ve all become a lot closer, and I think that’s helping on the field a lot,” said Scherrer, VCU’s leading scorer with 33 points.
“You’re with one group and you’re focused on school and you’re focused on hockey, and that’s it,” Karl said. “All the outside distractions aren’t there. That’s a great thing. I can see a balance between the two [in the future]. That would be nice.”
This weekend, VCU will host Saint Joseph’s Friday and Saint Louis on Sunday at Cary Street Field. It will be the Rams’ first consecutive home matches of the season. One win could be enough for VCU to clinch the fourth and final spot in the A-10 Tournament, which would earn the Rams a 500-mile trip to Amherst, Mass. Nov. 2-3.
But don’t worry. They’ll be flying this time. Besides, what’s another 1,000 miles between friends?
“Enjoy the group you’re with,” Karl said. “We’ve been really lucky in that fashion. We’ve got a great group of players and a great staff that has made this time on the road more enjoyable than anyone thought that many hours on the road could be.”
MELANIE MAROTTA’S SECRETS FOR SLEEPING ON A BUS
1-Get your own seat. “On this bus, all but four players have to share a seat, so I use my seniority to get my own seat.”
2-Bring your own blanket and pillow. “If you don’t do that you’ll be so uncomfortable.”
3-Find the right position. Marotta says she prefers the fetal position.