Dec. 4, 2009

By Gaylon Krizak
Special to

SAN ANTONIO – B-b-b-b-b-bienvenidos a San Antonio.

The city’s traditional greeting came through chattering teeth Friday as the coldest day in a recent wintry snap brought temperatures that seldom topped 40, a strong north wind and, yes, even snow flurries to the NCAA Division III Soccer Championships.

At 35 degrees with a wind chill of 25 for the first match, San Antonio was colder than the home cities of four of the seven schools that sent teams to the men’s and women’s semifinals. (Messiah, from Grantham, Pa., has a team in each tournament.)

The precipitation was gone by the time the men’s semifinals began, but that meant colder temperatures as the sun set and the insulating cloud cover vanished.

“We’re totally blaming it on the teams,” said Mary Japhet, associate executive director of San Antonio Sports, one of the event’s co-sponsors. “They all come from the north country and brought it with them.

“Seriously, that’s the great thing about sports. You play rain, shine or snow, in this case, and we’re ready for it.”

Weather aside, San Antonio’s performance in its first turn as D-III soccer host has earned warm praise.

“The most important thing to us is that the student-athletes have a wonderful experience, that they remember this not only because of what happens on the field of play but also their overall experience of San Antonio,” Japhet said.

On Thursday, each team went to a different local middle school as part of a community service project that stressed the importance of staying in school and how athletics and education can best mix.

“They got (the middle schoolers) out on the field and played soccer with them,” Japhet said. “The coaches were telling me they think their student-athletes got as much or more out of it than even the middle schoolers they visited.”

This year’s tournament concludes with championship matches at 1 and 5 p.m. Saturday at Blossom Soccer Stadium, which also will host next year’s D-III tournaments.

No forecast is in yet for Dec. 3-4, 2010.

Messiah player injured: Leah Sipe, a sophomore reserve midfielder for Messiah, left the field on a stretcher with about 3½ minutes to go in Friday’s first match.

Falcons coach Scott Frey said Sipe, who was taken to Christus Santa Rosa Hospital in downtown San Antonio, suffered an injury to the back of the neck and said her status for Saturday’s final was “up in the air.”

“She’s sore, and she’s going to have a headache,” Frey said. “But she seemed to be fine. She’s got feeling; she’s got movement. She checks out fine.”

Conlon Crazies: Most conspicuous among the morning/afternoon crowd of 735 was a group of about 20 Washington University in St. Louis students calling themselves the “Conlon Crazies” after Bears women’s coach Jim Conlon.

The Crazies’ attire ranged from a bright red fright wig to a bear costume. Nearly every student sported a T-shirt with something hand-written on the back.

“We’re just excited about everyone who’s been supporting us, whether it’s at home on the Webcast, the Conlon Crazies coming down on a bus or our families that have traveled all over the country to see us,” the Crazies’ namesake said. “We just really appreciate the support because it means a lot to the girls knowing there’s people cheering for our family out there.”

Young Lions: Don’t be surprised if The College of New Jersey’s women’s team, which has reached the  semifinals five of the last seven years, returns to San Antonio next year.

Coach Joe Russo, who has three D-III championships and four runner-up finishes at TCNJ, said the Lions frequently had as many as eight freshmen on the field during their 1-0 loss to top-ranked Messiah.