This story originally was posted in Soccer New York on Oct. 4, 2004

By Michael Lewis

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — For the Southampton College women’s soccer team, wait until next year is just not an option.

With the school is closing after the 2005 spring semester due to spiraling financial woes, its win this season or become a footnote to history.

The Colonials find themselves ranked fifth among Division II schools in the nation with a near-perfect 16-0-2 record entering this weekend’s New York Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament at Adelphi University. They take on the University of Bridgeport (12-5-1) at 2 p.m. in Garden City on Friday, after Adelphi (15-3) meets the University of New Haven (11-6-1) at 11 a.m. The final is 1 p.m. on Sunday.

Southampton probably doesn’t need to become champion because the top four teams in each region will be selected to the 32-team field. The Colonials are ranked No. 1 in the Northeast. Bids will go out on Monday.

But the Colonials want to win because of pride and the possibility they would get a home-field advantage in the playoffs.

“Our goal in the beginning was to be one of the top teams in the region,” said Southampton coach Mark Dawson, who noted his team has beaten the three other NYCAC finalists during the regular season.

“We know its not going to be easy,” he added. “Just because we beat them before all before, it gives the other teams more incentive. It’s going to be difficult. It’s a good test, hopefully to get ready for the NCAAs.”

While the team tries not to discuss the closing, it has used it as a motivating factor.

“We want to go out with a big bang to show the school that the last year was the big year,” said junior midfielder Denise Domena, a Brentwood, N.Y. native who leads the team in scoring (12 goals, nine assists). “That definitely motivates me a lot.”

Sophomore midfielder Sam Balzer of Mastic Beach, N.Y. said the team had double motivation. Southampton was on the bubble for last year’s Division II tournament, but failed to make the cut. So, the Colonials wanted to prove itself.

“We came in no matter what,” she said. “We wanted to make the tournament even more because we deserved to be there, not just because the school is closing. We want to go out with a bang. We’re good enough to be there.”

Dawson agreed. “That’s our main motivating factor,” he said. “On top of that is that we’re the last team to come through Southampton and we want to leave our mark. How do we want to be remembered? That’s kind of adding on to it.”

Even before a ball was kicked in practice, the team got a swift kick to its stomach last June when the college announced it was closing.

“It’s kind of funny,” said Dawson, who teaches physical education at the William Floyd Elementary School. “Andreas [Lindberg, the men’s coach] called me. ‘You’re never going to believe it in a million years.’ I never would have guessed what he was going to say. He told me that the school decided to shut down. I was shocked. I didn’t know what to say, what to do. It was stunning news. We didn’t even have an inkling that it was coming down the road.”

Dawson had to call every player and tell them the bad news.

“It was unbelievable to have to call them up to tell them that after I had convinced them that this a great place, loved this place and you should come here,” he said. “Now you turn around and tell them its not going to be here anywhere. You kind of feel responsible. You told them that you’re going to be here and graduate from here.

“Those were some of the hardest phone calls I’ve ever made. There was so much unsettled-ness. We didn’t know if we were going to continue this year or if we were going to have teams.”

But the team came back and became resolute on making the best of the situation.

“It’s the last time we’re going to play with all these girls,” Domena said. “We’re like a family now. It’s like leaving your family. It’s an emotional experience.”

Added Finnish forward Paivi Kivisto: “We have to show everybody that we have talent here. We’re good.”

Players don’t know where they’ll be attending school or playing next season.

Domena, an education major, said that she is thinking about transferring to C.W. Post in Nassau County, which is a part of the Long Island University umbrella that Southampton is under.

“But I don’t know if I’m going to play over there,” she said. “It’s a different team. I feel I grew up with these girls. It’s going to be hard. I’m not sure if I’m going to play yet or focus on schoolwork. It’s going to be a big change if I do play.”

Domena is fortunate because as an education major, she can easily find another school, whether it’s Post or another college. Some of her teammates major in Marine biology.

“Who else has marine biology?” Domena asked “This is a big marine biology school, so a lot of the marine biology majors can’t go to Post.”

Stony Brook University recently announced it was adding a marine biology program, so those athletics have an option of staying on Long Island and transferring to that school.

Dawson lost one player who transferred to Post before this season. “I called the coach and made sure he had room for her,” he said. “We wanted to make sure it was logical.”

And regardless what transpires in any of the post-season tournaments, Dawson will face a unique role reversal — trying to place each underclassman in the proper school.

“Instead of recruiting next year, it’s all I’m going to be doing,” he said. “It’s doing it in reverse. Instead of recruiting in December or January, I’m going to be placing kids.

“Odd. Very odd.”

But thoughts of next year have been put out of the players’ minds. Now, they are thinking of this season.

Dawson admitted he has been surprised by the team’s focus, given its undefeated record.

“Their focus has just at another level than anything in the past,” he said. “With everything going on around them, it’s really, easy that you come against an opponent you should beat and you have an off-day [and lose]. But that never happens to us. Every game they showed up determined and focused. We know that they’re great soccer players, but their focus has been at another level.”

Added Domena: “If we play the way we can play, we can beat any one and we can go to the NCAAs.”

And who knows? Perhaps go to the Final Four and win the whole thing in Southampton’s final season.