Ask Choctaw boys’ soccer head coach Chris McDaniel or any one of his players to highlight the team’s greatest attribute, and “chemistry” will prove to be the operative word.
“We do a lot of team bonding and we’re always hanging out,” junior forward Shane Nicholson said. “I’d say the team chemistry is better than any other team in the state.”
Chemistry is what spurred the Indians on to a fourth straight district title. It’s what led the Indians to a come-from-behind 2-1 win over defending 3A champion Ponte Vedra in Friday’s Region 1-3A championship. And it’s the guiding force once again as they look to capture the program’s first state title In Melbourne, Fla.
But first things first, the Indians must get past Archbishop McCarthy in tomorrow's 3A State Semifinal at 11 a.m. locally. The Indians are making the program’s ninth Final Four appearance and their third in four years. They are 1-6 in the state semifinal round, their lone win coming in 2011 when their bid for a state title ended in a 3-2 loss to 4A champion Cape Coral.
Boding well for the Indians is they haven’t lost since a 3-2 setback to Gulf Breeze on Dec. 17 and, during the postseason, they’ve outscored opponents 15-2 en route to Final Four.
To watch Choctaw’s 3A State Semifinal matchup at 11 a.m. locally against Archbishop McCarthy, tune in to Bright House Sports Network on channel 47 (1147 HD) or visit http://www.bhsnlive.com/.
When it comes to covering sports, deciphering the perfect venue is obviously subjective. Each sport has its creature comforts. And each sport has its noticeable drawbacks.
Football typically comes with a heated press box seat and a sterling view, but is far from the action. Basketball and volleyball, meanwhile, can be enjoyed in the friendly confines of climate-controlled gyms, but those gyms can be stuffy and crowded. That’s also the case of wrestling and weightlifting, but be prepared to be on your toes to catch the non-stop action.
Baseball and softball can be enjoyed with a bag of peanuts from the bleachers, but back support is tough to come by. Meanwhile, swimming, soccer, track and field and tennis can be covered from the sidelines in a comfortable chair brought from home, but the frenetic pace demands the reporter to be organized and focused. Meanwhile, golf and cross country will get the blood flowing and caloric tally reduced because of their dependence on moving from location to location, which can be viewed as both a positive and a negative. Simply put, each is uniquely different.
As for stat keeping, each has its drawbacks.
So what’s my favorite? Although I love America’s pastime and was a former golfer and tennis player in high school, I’d tell you my preferences are always changing. There’s just no perfect answer.
Speaking for Brandon, I think he’d tell you The Arena at Northwest Florida State College is his favorite. It’s warm but never stuffy, stats are provided alongside food and refreshments, and interviews with coaches are intimate and easy to track down.
He’d also probably tell you one of his least favorite is soccer, considering it’s in the winter and the temperatures and wind chill around the pitch are guaranteed to be at least 10 degrees colder than anywhere in town.
Which leads me to this week, which has seen me hitting the soccer beat hard.
I have a special appreciation for soccer, and I probably make for a funny sight on the sidelines. With my beach chair, water jug, laptop bag and notebook in tow and layered to the nines in warm clothing, I make a loud entrance. And I park myself right next to the teams’ benches.
There’s something to be said about being so close to the action, a fly on the wall of a room where strategies are openly discussed, failures are lamented and moments of exuberance have no filter. It’s an intimate viewpoint, one I wouldn’t dare pass up for a heated press box or a seat in my car.
And I think having that option is what I appreciate most. I work in a room full of L-shaped desks, but my true office is the ever-changing sports arena. And with every venue, I’ve come to appreciate the small things. That’s what I’ll remind myself tonight when I’m on the pitch freezing, trying to generate some kind of circulation to my hands.
I’ve never been a fan of the term. The last time I checked, no where on college degrees is the word mentioned.
It’s subjective. It’s unquantifiable. It’s stupid.
Here’s an idea: Instead of being reckless with the term, why not just afford someone their official title. You know, the one they earned.
So that leads me to the Panel of Experts, a hand-selected hodgepodge of journalists, coworkers, an athletic director and respected people in the community who predict weekly high school and college football games.
Not to discredit anyone on the panel, but no one is an expert. Of course that should be obvious considering our records, which fall well short of our talented field of Nostradamus’s (Take our top prognosticator, NWF Daily News Sport Editor Brandon Walker, who wouldn’t even crack the top 12 of the season standings).
Then there’s me. At 52-23, I’m five games away from even cracking the top 25. As for my place among the panel, I’m ninth among 10 "experts."
I do believe my rank will rise. Because, after all, I’m not terrible at life and I do have a good sense about sports. But this is a weird contest, built on the unpredictability of amateur football.
And that's my point exactly. There are no experts. Certainly not me, regardless of my current or future standing.
It is no secret that the Panhandle is one of the richest athletic locations in terms of producing blue-chip prospects.
But it seems like our neck of the woods has been especially fruitful of late considering the recent onslaught of collegiate All-Americans, top-10 MLB draft prospects and D-1 signees.
Two days ago I sat down with Choctawhatchee senior Bryan Baker to discuss the upcoming draft (June 6-8). The day after that I had a chat with Choctawhatchee senior Brittany Brown, a standout guard who will star on the Florida State women's basketball team this fall. Meanwhile up north at the same time, Sports Editor Brandon Walker was sitting down with Niceville senior Nick Haynes, a three-sport standout and offensive lineman who will star the University of Kentucky this fall.
Then today I got wind of NWF State shortstop Nick Masonia earning honorable mention All-American honors, an accolade that has dominated the local headlines lately. Also earning All-American recognition recently were NWF State point guard and sophomore Chris Jones, who is bound for the University of Louisville next season, Niceville and NWF State alum and current Troy outfielder Danny Collins, South Walton alum and current Alabama tennis standout Alex Guarachi, and Niceville alum and current Seminole infielder Kelly Hensley (Academic All-American).
Accolades like this are nothing to gloss over or take for granted. Being grouped with the creme de la creme in the country is impressive even for the Panhandle, which I hope continues to be represented well both locally and nationally by our neck of the woods.
All-Area lists and I have a love-hate relationship.
Even drawing from the nominations of area coaches and putting in the exhasutive legwork of navigating archives and reviewing stats, the end-of-season lists never seem to come out perfect. And, really, how can they? The lists are both objective and subjective.
Objective in the fact that stats do weigh heavily on the decisions. Subjective in the fact of how we choose to uitlize those stats. For instance, team strength, strength of schedule, class size, talent around said player, team success, what stats should factor into the equation most, and so forth and so forth are all issues that factor into the decision. In a nutshell, it's impossible to devise a formula to accurately compensate for all the tangibles and intangibles in every athletic venue.
But that's true of any Best-Of list, from the prep to the professional ranks.
But being a company man, I'm proud of the Daily News' commitment to prep sports. Despite it just being a two-person staff, I feel our game recaps, roundup coverage and features are substantial. And most readers would agree that the epitome of that coverage rests in our All-Area lists, which cover a range of double-digit high schools and are inclusive to EVERY sport. As for the main sports -- think football, volleyball, basketball -- they are represented in the scope of big and small schools while also sheding light on the premiere coach of said sport.
Simply put, we put a lot of thought and effort into these lists. They'll never be perfect, but the picks are never made in jest. We're always open to recommendations to better these lists and receptive to constructive criticism. We have thick skin, which is required a lot of times in working at a paper serving the needs of so many programs.
So, have a complaint? Let us know. Have a compliment or attaboy to throw our way? We're listening.