MICHIGAN CITY — Sportsmanship in athletics isn't what it used to be, but it still has a pulse.
Most opponents have lent a sympathetic shoulder to Marquette's short-handed girls soccer team this season, fielding nine players against the Blazers, whose lineup has been two down for much of the season.
"Most teams are like, oh yeah, for sure, we got you," Blazers junior Riley Lindsey said after Thursday's Michigan City match. "They know our record. There's been a few who just want to get a head start and once they tire out, they put the JV in. They're usually good sports about it."
It was no different for the match with the Wolves, who decided upon learning of Marquette's situation to keep two starters on the sideline. It didn't matter in the 8-1 outcome, but the gesture was appreciated.
"It's hard. As a coach, there's nothing I can do to change it other than try to help them get better," Marquette coach Wil Cogdill said. "Every time we go out to practice, I challenge them. I can see some improvements. The problem is they can't improve fast enough to be competitive. Here's the thing I can say, they've come out all season and given it their best, no matter the situation."
Inevitable, fatigue sets in during matches faster for the Blazers, since they don't have any substitutes.
"We do the best we can in practice to get conditioning in," Cogdill said. "The refs have been amazing. They've all given us water breaks halfway through the half. Early in the season, we had a couple girls getting cramps. They were dehydrated. We've helped them get past some of that stuff. About 20, 25 minutes into each half, everybody's walking. What can you do? They try to conserve their strength, put little bursts of speed on when they have to. After they get the ball, make a pass, they walk."
Cogdill and the kids would be lying if they said it's been a blast this season, which has seen the Blazers win two matches and tie another, but the Marquette coach has been warmed by the iron nine's positive attitude through it all.
"They'll say, are we supposed to win, coach? Like today, they're going, should we have won this?," Cogdill said. "When we went on the field, I thought we had a 50-50 chance. It didn't work out that way. At the end of the game, they have a moment or two, then they move on. It's OK, what are we doing?. It's been about as good as you can expect. It's really good to see their resilience. I really admire that. They're smart girls. They have some good attitudes about things. I don't see any real fractions in the team. They all seem to get along. They all talk really well. You just try to enjoy yourself, do the best you can and see what happens."
For a veteran club player like Riley Lindsey, it's been particularly challenging, but the junior captain knows the team looks to her and Maddie Rowley, the only other experienced player on the roster, for direction.
"It's hard when everybody's not able to play at the level I'm used to," said Lindsey, a goalie in club and a field player foe the Blazers said. "Only two of us who played before, everybody else is basically new. But they put their own effort into it. They come from different sports, so they bring in what they know from those sports. They try their best and we have fun while we're doing it."
Teams, especially young ones, go as their captains go, and Cogdill is grateful for his pair.
"Maddie and Riley are by far the best players," he said. "Even those two have never gotten to the point where it's, gosh, why can't you guys do it? They're really supportive of all the girls. They try to help them. They never get down. I think the girls appreciate it. They do respond somewhat to that. I couldn't ask for two better seasoned players. They're the backbone. They're the ones who set that mental tone as well."
Adversity, as the saying goes, reveals character, and Lindsey believes she's better for having gone through it.
"I think it's made me a better person, a better player on the spiritual level," she said. "I've always been one screaming from the goal, encouraging them, get the ball.
Maddie does a really good job, if the other team scores, clapping, we got this, keep going. It definitely makes me bring out the leader aspect. Everybody has to keep their heads up. Everybody needs to keep trying. No one gets mad at each other."
The season's struggles made the wins against River Forest and Washington Township all the sweeter. Marquette also tied Westville.
"We won against Washington Township with nine and we might have won with 10 against River Forest," Lindsey said. "Oh my gosh, it just made us love each other even more."
Cogdill's also appreciative of an understanding group of parents.
"That's been a huge thing," he said. "I think I can say they're all enjoying their season. Occasionally, we've talked about how if this is the worst thing that ever happens to you, you're going to have a great life."