Erica Walsh's long commute

August, 25, 2008
WILLIAMSBURG, Va. -- Opposing coaches and players sometimes joke about the difficulties inherent in getting to State College, Pa. from just about anywhere else. But that's nothing compared to Erica Walsh's commute for Saturday's game.

The United States women's national team collected its gold medals in Beijing at around noon ET on Thursday. Just after midnight ET as Friday became Saturday, Walsh caught up with the Nittany Lions after flying from Beijing to Chicago and then on to Norfolk, Va.

Of course, it could have been worse. At least they didn't charge for a blanket on the flight.

"I slept 15 hours on the way home, so I'm probably better rested than my staff that's been working like a dog for me for nine months," Walsh joked.

Based on at least the opening game, assistants Ann Cook, Michael Coll and Mariel Wilner did just fine. But going through an offseason's worth of work without a head coach did present the Nittany Lions with unique challenges.

"It was tough," senior defender Jessie Davis said. "We love her, and we'd get an e-mail here or a text message there. But I think it helped us, because we had to bond with each other. It's nice also -- I don't feel it so much because I'm a returner, but as a freshman, there is so much pressure to perform. And maybe with the coach not being there, they could relax a little bit and take some of the pressure off."

And with tournaments earlier this year in China, Portugal and South Korea, as well as World Cup qualifying in Mexico and the event itself back in China, Walsh's Olympic post with the national team demanded a single-minded focus that kept her away from the Penn State team she took over last season.

"I really tried to separate the two worlds," Walsh said. "I wrote them an e-mail before I went: 'I'm going to give 100 percent of my effort to [the national] team right now in hopes of winning an Olympic gold. And when I get back, here I am; I'm cutting it off and I'm with you.' And I think I've done a pretty good job of trying to focus my attention on only one thing. It came at a cost; I lost touch with some of them. But they're resilient. They're college kids."

Walsh delivered the last line with the laugh of someone who has spent a lot of years in close proximity to the sometimes curious world views and priorities of college kids. That's something Davis summed up when asked how the players handled watching Walsh's games from China, which until the gold-medal game, all started between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m. ET.

"We mostly watched the replays," Davis conceded.

Graham Hays covers college sports for espnW, including softball and soccer. Hays began with ESPN in 1999.



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