The 2013 women’s soccer season will not have a storybook ending or a fairytale resolution.
The Chippewas will not ride off into the sunset with a Mid-American Conference Championship, but instead were handed a heartbreaking 2-1 loss to Ball State in the first round of the MAC tournament yesterday.
First-year head coach Peter McGahey called the season-ending loss “gut-wrenching.” The season CMU put together over the last three months was admirable.
Central Michigan started the year 0-7-1 but finished the season 8-3 in the MAC and took a No. 3 seed into the conference tournament.
How poetic it is that the season ends with such an emotional outpour from players and coaches?
The 2013 campaign was born in the midst of tragedy and devastation.
Josie Seebeck, a sophomore midfielder who was killed in a car accident before the season started, served as motivation for the women to make this year count. Not winning a MAC Championship does not negate the honor the Chippewas found this year.
This team was unique. The loss of two senior leaders to season-ending injuries combined with Seebeck’s death stacked the odds against CMU.
The group was stronger than the adversity they faced. They played and practiced with heavy hearts. They kept their daily and season-long goals in mind and were a family and acted like it every day of the season.
McGahey served as a protector, strategic planner and an emotional rock for the women.
He handled the tragic circumstances, the losing streaks and overwhelming success once conference play started with immense class and dignity.
CMU could not have found a better man for a job no one could have seen coming.
The players on this team were not your average teammates.
“We have all become best friends. These are my favorite people in the whole world,” senior forward Nicole Samuel said during what would become the final week of the season.
Samuel was one of many Chippewas who maintained a positive attitude no matter how many times tragedy haunted the team.
It was a difficult balance: Finding the sensitivity required to cope with loss while retaining the starkness needed to have success on the field.
The scene after Sunday’s loss to Ball State was all too familiar. The Chippewas stood in a circle, holding each other during the emotional display.
There were laughter and tears, just as there had been all season long. This team had been through it all together.
The last thing team-leading scorer Laura Gosse told me before she walked off the field for the last time this season was remarkable.
“For everyone who played on this team this year, we have a lot to look forward to, both in soccer and in life,” she said. “We have all grown and become better people after going through a season like this. Josie is going to be with all of us in everything we do every step of the way.”
Sometimes a team’s season can be easily summed up or defined in one moment or another. That was impossible for this team.
Not the women standing in a half circle with their heads bowed in mourning of Seebeck’s passing. Not Samuel scoring the game-winning goal in double-overtime on senior day. Not McGahey embracing a shattered Grace Labrecque after she gave up the season-ending goal.
This was a team whose definition and identity took months to understand. It was an ascent from the darkest of depths and the weathering of a perfect storm.
McGahey told me after the loss to Ball State he could not have been more proud of the women for having the courage to strive for success in the face of all the suffering.
I never had the opportunity to meet Josie Seebeck, but I’m sure she would be proud.