Jose Gomez’s advice to his teammates who haven’t played in a College Cup is simple.
The stakes might be a little higher and the spotlight a little brighter when eighth-ranked Creighton squares off Friday night against Indiana in the national semifinals. But the bottom line, Gomez said, is that it’s just another game.
“Yeah, it’s the final four,” he said, “but at the end of the day, we just have to go out there and perform as we have all year.”
That’s been good enough to get the Bluejays back to the College Cup in consecutive years for the first time in school history. They leave Wednesday afternoon for Hoover, Ala., hoping to return next week with a national championship trophy.
Creighton’s title run last season ended in the semifinals when the Bluejays battled Charlotte to a double-overtime tie, then lost in the shootout. Creighton dominated play against Charlotte but still wound up disappointed.
“That’s soccer,” Bluejay coach Elmar Bolowich said.
Bolowich will be making his fifth straight appearance in the College Cup, taking North Carolina there in his final three seasons at Chapel Hill and then getting Creighton to the final four in each of his first two years at the school.
Bolowich’s long association with soccer has taught him that the game can sometimes be unfair.
“Just ask Akron,” he said. “They outshot us 31-11, but we were the team to advance (by winning the shootout).”
Bolowich knows his impact on Friday’s game will basically end once the whistle blows.
“Soccer is more of a player’s game than it is a coach’s game,” he said. “Once the whistle blows and the game starts, there are very few things you can do from the sideline to change the course or the dynamics of the game.
“My work is more in the preparation for the contest rather than being in the contest. You don’t have the timeouts that you have with the traditional sports. It’s a game of rhythm and a game where players have to make decisions. We just try to train our players to make the right decisions in any kind of circumstance.”
The Bluejays have done a good job of that. Gomez is one of three Creighton players who started last season’s final match who returned in 2012. Bolowich’s job at the start of the season was to find a way to mesh a lot of new moving parts with a core group of veterans.
That process produced its share of ups and downs. The Bluejays rolled into October with a 5-3-2 record that Bolowich knew had reduced their margin for error to almost nothing.
That’s what makes getting back to the final four so rewarding, he said. Creighton takes a 14-match unbeaten streak into the contest against the Hoosiers. The Bluejays have not lost since dropping a Sept. 25 game at Tulsa.
“When you looked at us in the middle of September, we were hot and cold, we were up and down,” he said. “We had to figure some things out in terms of our lineup and our rotation.
“For us to come together to have a dozen-plus unbeaten streak is fantastic against tough competition. People knew that we could beat the MVC teams, but could we beat the tough teams?”
Creighton eliminated Washington, top-ranked and fifth-seeded Akron and fourth-seeded Connecticut to secure its spot in the final four.
“This is what we work for,” Bluejay defender Andrew Ribeiro said. “The coaches were harping in the preseason with every sprint, with every run, with every time you wanted to yell back at someone, that this is what it’s all for. This is why we play soccer.”
Ribeiro, Gomez, Bruno Castro, Eric Miller, Jose Ribas, Jake Brown and Brent Kallman are the only players on the Creighton roster with final four experience. For the rest of the Bluejays, this season’s adventure is new.
“We have to go into this thinking that this doesn’t happen every year,” Ribeiro said. “For the younger guys, we want them to realize this could be their one and only shot. We want them to seize it now rather than risk that they might not get back in the future.”
Win Friday night and Creighton would advance to the Sunday’s national championship game against either Maryland or Georgetown. Stretch that unbeaten streak to 16 and the Bluejays would be coming home with the school’s first national championship.
“That would be a big deal,” Gomez said. “Not a lot of people know Creighton. We’re a small school. Putting Creighton out there on the map would be pretty special.”
»NOTES: Bolowich said Miller, a sophomore defender, is questionable for Friday’s match. He injured his knee before Sunday’s game against Connecticut and didn’t play. “He’s day-to-day,” Bolowich said, “but right now, I’d say it’s less than 50-50 that he’ll play.”
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