The Wisdom of the Tortoise

Nov. 23, 2010, 10:39 a.m. (ET)

COLLEGE PARK, MARYLAND - It took only a moment to end it; a moment that ended a series of moments that, on November 21 in College Park, Maryland, had lasted 97 minutes and 50 seconds; two full regulation periods, and nearly two full 7-aside overtimes. 

It took only a moment. The timer ticked, 2:14 to 2:13; an intercept was made, a pass executed. It ticked again, 2:13, 2:12; the ball was carried left, and pulled right; 2:12 became 2:11; the space opened, the stick raised; 2:11, 2:10, the stick descended, made impact with the ball. A sound echoed through the stadium; it was the reverberating sound of the ball clanging against wood. Time stopped.

A team of exhausted athletes erupted in celebration at the sacred sound of a goal; their opponent, another team of exhausted athletes, crippled to green ground, in disbelief. 

The game ended, and with it, the 2010 NCAA Field Hockey season came to a close; a season of chaotic, inspiring, and definitive moments strung together like a pearl necklace and placed over the heads of the victor.

The victor’s journey was, in one moment, perpetuated into the history books; and the journey’s of all the others who had fought so brilliantly over the course of the fall season, had become mere footnotes in the heroic story of the champion.

The champion’s story is simple: they derived order from the storm of competitive chaos that ran rampant in 2010. They focused on themselves, the moment at hand, and the execution of the details in the process, trusting that results would come from the intricate layering of their foci.

The 2010 field hockey season offered a tantalizing stew of chaos that had been brewed by the surprise ending of the 2009 season- an unsuspected winner in the closing seconds of the final, North Carolina, destroyed the perfect ending to a perfect Maryland season.

With the start of the 2010 season, the chaos ensued; wins and losses were unsystematically traded between universities.  In early November, the NCAA committee knighted its table of sixteen contenders for the tournament crown, a semi-unexpected amalgam of competitors from 9 different conferences – four from the big ten, four from the ACC, two from the big East, and one each from the Ivy, NorPac, Atlantic 10, Patriot League, CAA and America East.

Amidst the chaos of contenders, the eventual victors kept order, clinging to the famous wisdom of Aesop’s ancient adage: “Slow and steady wins the race,” - the words spoken by the slow yet wise tortoise as he crosses the finish line before his physically superior opponent, the fast-footed hare in the old fable, the Tortoise and the Hare.

Slow and steady wins the race. Perhaps, this is the mantra of the champion’s story. A story about how the expertise of the Tortoise’s wisdom overcomes the inexperienced bravado of the Hare.

This field hockey season, the Hares were numerous.

Falling from the height of the big ten throne, the NCAA Cinderella hopeful, Michigan, lost to CAA Champion Old Dominion, who a day later, went flat beneath the Heels of North Carolina, like Stanford had done the day prior. The defending champion, Carolina, was tortoise number one.

North Carolina’s ACC foe, Wake Forest, after sprinting though the ACC tournament, fell to the pride of the Ivy, Princeton who, to the dismay of the scholarly elite, fell to Virginia, who had narrowly edged Michigan State. Despite its speed, an experienced Virginia squad became tortoise number two.

Slow and steady wins the race. One bracket was hardened like a turtle shell.

The National semi-final contest between two southern tortoises, North Carolina and their neighbor to the north, Virginia, was solidified.

Meanwhile, the hare-chasing Huskies of Connecticut, after earning a narrow victory over American in sudden death strokes, fell to Maryland, winner over Atlantic 10 Champion, UMASS. Maryland had easily claimed its rightful place as tortoise number three.

Marylands opponent emerged from the highly contested northern bracket, where Syracuse after besting Penn State, was bested by Ohio State, a winner over Albany. The final Tortoise of the four was Ohio State.

The second National Semifinal was known: Maryland versus Ohio State, in a race to earn a chance to compete for College Field Hockey’s highest prize.  

Slow and steady wins the race.

The Final Four games were played on a beautiful November afternoon in College Park, Maryland. In the first semifinal, Carolina outlasted Virginia in overtime and Maryland won in regulation over Ohio State.

Two hares were eliminated. Two tortoises remained.

It was a long-anticipated rematch of the exhilarating albeit heartbreaking, 2009 National Final: North Carolina versus Final Four host, Maryland.

Slow and steady wins the race.

The whistle blew; two teams played rhythmically, methodically, and persistently. They were always in motion, like the tortoise, yet never out of control, like the hare. Both teams were engaged and focused on the moment, executing the details of each and every step of the journey.

Within the context of this ever-important final game, the moments of opportunity came and went; each team persistently moving forward

Eventually, in the 97th minute of this long, steady race a moment came that ended the season. A ball clanged against the wooden boards of the goal, and the sound echoed through the stadium as the Maryland Terrapins walked over the finish line, winners of this season’s long race.

If the Terrapins and their turtle-esque victory proved one thing this season, it is that the Aesop and his Tortoise were right; slow and steady does win the race.