Alex Farrer

Calhoun Times Sports Editor Alex Farrer

The power of confidence

The Calhoun Lady Jackets softball team had some ups and downs during the regular season with tough losses, losing players due to injuries or other reasons and dealing with youth and inexperience after losing a class of six seniors from last year’s team that all have gone on to play college softball. There were some that wrote off the Lady Jackets and said their run at the top of the region and as a legitimate State contender had come to an end.

But Calhoun head coach Diane Smith never wavered in her confidence that her team could get the job done. She knew that her teams of the past had risen to the occasion when they needed to, and why would this year’s group be any different. Even after the Lady Jackets fell to the No. 3 seed out of Region 6-AAA South to end the regular season, meaning they would likely face three straight road series in the region playoffs if they wanted to keep their region title streak alive, Smith still believed her team could come out on top.

And guess what they did? Calhoun reeled off three straight series sweeps at Coahulla Creek, at Sonoraville and at LFO in the region playoffs to earn their sixth straight region title. It shouldn’t come as any surprise. On multiple occasions, Smith’s teams have lost regular-season meetings with Ringgold or Dade County (when the Lady Jackets were in Class AA) or others and came back to defeat those teams when it mattered most come region tournament time.

I guess Diane Smith does know something about softball. She’s seen a lot more of it than myself and many others now that she’s over 30 years in as head coach at Calhoun. And she is also one of those coaches that seems to know just the right buttons to push to motivate her team or get them to turn it up a notch when needed. I have nothing but respect for Coach Smith, a living legend, and I will hate when the day comes when she finally hangs it up and calls it a career. For the record, I think that day is still pretty far off.

Coach Smith is an unbelievable softball coach. Anyone who thinks differently either doesn’t know much about her or softball. And one of her biggest strengths is her confidence in her players and team. It’s a powerful thing.

A little bit of soccer

I’m going to do something a little rare for this column. I’m going to talk a little soccer. So I give you the right to skip ahead to the next section if you aren’t interested, but I’ve just got to vent a little.

I consider myself an above average soccer fan. I know enough to feel pretty educated, but I’m certainly not an expert by any means. Here’s something I do know. The U.S. Men’s National should be able to beat or tie Trinidad and Tobago with a World Cup berth on the line. But they didn’t do that on Tuesday night as they lost 2-1 to punctuate the most embarrassing night in U.S. Soccer history.

The team will not be playing in the World Cup next Summer in Russia now, and that is just sad. It’s sad for the state of the team this day in age to not be able to qualify with all the resources and money devoted to U.S. Men’s Soccer, and it’s sad for the fans that get behind the Red, White and Blue every four years. I know that for soccer to grow even bigger we must get past the cheering for our team every four years at the World Cup, but now with that off the table, it’s going to be even harder for soccer to gain a foothold and improve to be able to compete on an international level.

You know what I saw on Tuesday night on that field in Trinidad that had half-empty stands surrounding it? I saw a team that played with pride and determination and knew that it was an honor to have their country’s colors on their chest. The sad part is that team wasn’t the U.S.A. That team was Trinidad and Tobago, a team that had been eliminated from World Cup contention months ago, had lost six straight matches and had literally nothing to play for on Tuesday. All they had to play for was pride, and that was enough to beat the U.S.

I appreciate all the things players like Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard and Michael Bradley, among others, has done for U.S. Soccer. I appreciate Coach Bruce Arenas and even Coach Jurgen Klinsmann. But it’s time for a new era. It’s time for those names and faces to move on, and for U.S. Soccer to start anew.

Maybe this is the kind of rude awakening U.S. Men’s Soccer needed. Maybe we will get serious about developing young talent like almost every other country around the world does. Maybe we need to put players on the national team that believe it is an honor to play for their country rather than those that feel like it is a right or an obligation.

It’s going to be a long few years before the next chance for the U.S. Men’s team to qualify for the World Cup. Hopefully a lot will change in a positive direction between now and then. Only time will tell.

Weekend football picks

I didn’t have the time or the space in the paper to write a column last week, but I’m back at it this week with football picks for the big games this weekend. It’s another packed schedule so here are my picks for the week:

Missouri at Georgia

The Bulldogs continue to roll through their schedule, handily beating teams they should beat. They face another team that fits that bill on Saturday as Missouri comes to Athens. The Tigers are struggling mightily at 1-4 while Georgia is one of the most improved and talked about teams in the nation.

Georgia has also seemed to erase the stigma that was developed during the Mark Richt years that they play down to certain teams and are always good for a letdown or two. The Bulldogs are rolling, and Missouri certainly isn’t the team to stop that momentum, especially as well as Georgia is performing on both sides of the ball.

Score: Georgia wins, 49-13.

Georgia Tech at Miami

The Jackets face a crucial game on their schedule that will determine if they are legitimate ACC Coastal Division contenders or if they are simply another average team in the ACC as they head on the road to face unbeaten Miami. The Hurricanes are coming off a big win over rival Florida State to end the Seminoles’ recent run of dominance in the series.

Miami could be ready for a little letdown. I mean this is Mark Richt we’re talking about. And Georgia Tech had another week off to rest and try to get their fumble problems from early in the season figured out.

I think this one goes back and forth, but eventually Miami’s talent and size wears the Jackets down.

Score: Miami wins, 31-26.

Miami Dolphins at Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons are a lot healthier coming out of their bye week than they were going into it, and the welcome a Dolphins team that has looked pretty average so far this season.

Atlanta should get back offensive tackle Ryan Schraeder, pass rusher Vic Beasley and safety Ricardo Allen for the game, which is a big boost. The Falcons offense hopefully ironed some things out in the bye week as well and will cut down on the turnovers they have been plagued by in the first four weeks of the season.

The Falcons are rested, healthy, hungry and at home in front of their own fans. That doesn’t sound like a good day for Jay Cutler and the Dolphins.

Score: Atlanta wins, 39-27.