One of the popular axioms in sports is "Defend the home turf." Sports apparel companies have even built entire ad campaigns around "Defending this House." For the past 13 months and 14 home games, the Jacksonville women's soccer team has adhered to that saying and in Friday's Atlantic Sun Championship semifinal, they gave their fans of excuses to get riled up, shutting out the reigning champions, Kennesaw State, 3-0.
That win extended a home unbeaten streak that dates back 14 matches, to last season's regular-season meeting with Kennesaw State. The Dolphins won that meeting by a 3-1 margin beginning a run during which time, they boast a 10-0-4 mark and have outscored the opposition by a staggering 28-5 count (21-2 in nine matches this season). Ten of the contests have finished in shutouts.
By virtue of finishing as top seed, Jacksonville earned the right to host the semifinals and title game, something it has never done in the A-Sun. The players and their fans had to sit through more than a hour delay due to afternoon rain that befell the city before the first semifinal. For at least one game, playing in front of the home crowd proved to be a welcome change from the years of road trips and hostile venues.
"Being a senior and having everybody here, all your fans - even with the rain delay - you can't explain it, your heart is racing, everything is good" senior JU defender Devon Dowell said. "It's different to play at home; you bring out the fans and everyone wants to play for your home team. Your family is there; you have your friends, all your professors...you play for them, you play for your teammates."
As fate should have it, the team that last emerged from the visitors dressing room and returned home with a victory against Jacksonville will be the Dolphins opponent in Saturday's title tilt. Better than 13 months ago, Mercer pulled out a 1-0 victory on a header by All-Atlantic Sun defender Kacie Hudson. The Bears and Dolphins would meet again in an A-Sun Championship first-round match later that month and the Dolphins advanced following a shootout.
"It's great to play in front of the home crowd - I really think the campus and the community has rallied around this team and really has come up to support and make noise," Jacksonville head coach Brian Copham, the 2010 A-Sun Coach of the Year said.
Schools hosting the A-Sun Women's Championship have enjoyed great success in the 16 previous playings of the event. In 12 of those years, the school hosting the title match was in that game and in eight they emerged as the champion. The Dolphins have played for five A-Sun Women's Soccer Championships, never as the home team. In three they went up against the host, winning once, (2000, at FAU).
"When you've got a couple hundred people that are your fans at a conference tournament, or championship game, I think it's always in your favor to have the crowd behind you," Copham said. "It always lifts you up when you're tired, pushes you on, urges you for that goal. Anytime you've got a chance to play for a title, people want to come out and see it. I think they will respond, it will be the only thing...on campus this weekend and I think there will be a lot of fans to make some noise, and a lot of the other athletes that are rallying behind us and hopefully going to push us to a conference championship."