Johnny Soccer has seen just about everything at Creighton.
He arrived in 1994, back when Jays soccer played at Tranquility Park, a modest facility that Johnny Torres remembers for “holes, mud and everything else.”
Torres won the Hermann Trophy in 1997 as the nation's best soccer player. He scored two goals to put CU into its first College Cup in 1996. He's in his sixth year as a CU soccer assistant. He's preparing for his third College Cup appearance this weekend in Hoover, Ala.
There's only one thing Mr. Creighton Soccer hasn't been part of yet.
A national championship.
Creighton has never won an NCAA title, in any sport. There are no “Creighton national champions” shirts available. But the Jays are back at college soccer's final four for the fifth time, looking to make history.
It's going to happen sometime, right?
“I don't think I'd have the words to describe what that would mean for Creighton University,” Torres said. “Last weekend we played UConn, which has 30,000 students, and the fact that we have 4,500 undergrad, well, I think it is something to be proud of.
“It's going to happen one day.”
The reason why is the guy named Elmar.
CU has had good soccer coaches, raided by Penn State, Stanford and Washington. But when Athletic Director Bruce Rasmussen raided North Carolina to find his soccer coach two years ago, he might have made the best hire of his career.
If Elmar Bolowich brings a national title home to CU, that will be hard to argue.
It might already be true.
There's something about this 58-year-old German, a swashbuckling adventurer who has himself dropped off in the Alaskan wilderness every summer. He won a national title at North Carolina, and this is his sixth College Cup team in a storied career.
This one might be the best, win or lose.
“It ranks right up there,” Bolowich said.
The Jays returned only three regulars from last year's Cup qualifier. CU has played seven true freshmen or freshman redshirts, Bolowich's recruits. New goalkeeper. Somehow, same result.
“By the end of August, I thought (a Cup appearance) was questionable,” Bolowich said. “By the end of September, I thought it was a long shot.”
How did it happen? Jose Gomez improved from a second-team all-conference midfielder to a national player of the year finalist. Freshman redshirt goalkeeper Jeff Gal emerged as a star. Kids grew up.
Torres says one of Bolowich's strengths is putting together the puzzle as he goes, finding each player's role. But the other thing Bolowich is apparently very good at is instilling courage in his players.
That's right. Courage, not confidence. Big difference, the coach says.
“I think confidence is something you have to earn, it comes,” Bolowich said. “A lot of times you have athletes when they don't play well, you say they lack confidence. In my opinion, eight out of 10 times, it's not lack of confidence. It's lack of courage.
“I try to instill courage in the players. You don't want to back down, you always want to believe you're capable, you always want to go for the next one, even if you screwed up the previous one. You don't want anything to take away from your goal.”
|TOM SHATEL ON FACEBOOK|
|Click the image above to join the daily conversation on the Tom Shatel Facebook page.|
Torres said the thing that separates Bolowich from Bob Warming, Bret Simon and Jamie Clark is his “composure at all times.” But it might be that “go for it” attitude, too. Bolowich is very offensive-minded, always on the attack. That more than anything might be why CU is back.
“There was a situation at the Akron game (playoff game won in penalty kicks), right after we tied the game,” Torres said. “We had switched up our formation when we were behind, which made us more vulnerable on defense. When we tied the game, I immediately wanted to revert back to the (defensive) lineup we had going into the game.
“Coach kind of smiled at me and said, 'Hey, relax. We're going to get through this.'”
Bolowich says there's a reason that temperament works in college soccer, why he rarely talks about a national title to the team.
“That has to be a goal of ours,” Bolowich said. “I think eventually we will do that. But I could go to 10 final fours and not go to another one and still feel we had a tremendous accomplishment.
“We're in a sport where one goal decides the game, one mistake kills you or makes you go on. In our sport, you can play terrible and win, play negative and win, get outshot 30-1 and win. That's not possible in any other sport. It's a little bit cruel in that way.
“You can have a banner season and the other team gets a little bit lucky and wins, but that's our sport. To predict like you're going every year, that's impossible to do. We can have a great team next year but lose in the first round. Is that a failure?
“Well, I don't know. That's for other people to judge. I can only judge from what I see at the end. The kind of team we have right now, and where we are, to me is a tremendous success.”
There's only one way it can get better.
Contact the writer:
402-444-1025, email@example.com, twitter.com/tomshatelOWH