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Marla Ridenour on Sports

Sights, sounds from Zips soccer celebration

By Marla Published: January 19, 2011

Tuesday night's celebration of the Akron Zips 2010 Division I national soccer championship at Rhodes Arena included some memorable moments. Among them:

1. Video of the team jumping into the Pacific Ocean across from their Santa Barbara, Calif. hotel after winning the title. Coach Caleb Porter admitted last week that the water was freezing. The unbridled joy in the way they dashed into the water, eventually forming a circle, will be a lasting visual of the aftermath.

2. Porter didn't seem to mind that his suitcoat was probably ruined when senior Anthony Ampaipitakwong spray-painted a green streak down the middle of his head, with some of the spray settling on his left shoulder. If Porter is a sentimental sort, he'll keep the coat as a souvenir. If not, he'll use the raise from his 10-year contract extension to buy a new one. Still wondering why Ampaipitakwong didn't use one of the Zips colors.

3. Video shot by a member of the Zips staff at the MLS Super Draft included comments from league executives about the program and Porter. One said he could be the greatest soccer college coach in the country. Hope Northeast Ohio sports fans realize that they have in Porter.  No one could expect him to stay at Akron until his contract runs out in 2021.

4. Junior Kofi Sarkodie wouldn't let go of the NCAA trophy, holding it like it was his baby. He carried it into Rhodes Arena and kept it for most of the ceremony, eventually putting it on the table next to the speaker's podium.

5. When the subject of Akron's intimidating home crowd led by the AK-Rowdies came up, Ampaipitakwong related a story after the Zips' 7-1 victory over Michigan on Oct. 19. "I was talking to some people and one of the Michigan guys said, 'Hey, I don't think we should go this way. The Rowdies are over there,''' Ampaipitakwong said.

6. Realizing it wouldn't have been much of a celebration without them,  UA paid to fly in the seven players selected in the MLS Draft. They are no longer enrolled in school; many were already with their new teams.

 "I wouldn't have missed this for the world,'' said one of the seven, sophomore Zarek Valentin. "Even though I was only here a year, I'm a better soccer player and a better person because of you guys,'' said freshman Perry Kitchen.

7. When he began his remarks, Porter said he came up with 56 names of people he should thank for their contributions this season. He didn't name them all.

8. Porter confided that he had a motivational speaker address the team before the Michigan game.  Talking about the power of the mind, Porter said the man asked the team, 'How many goals are you going to win by tomorrow?''

Porter said Hermann Trophy winner Darlington Nagbe, who is ''pretty laid back,'' raised his hand and said, ''Seven.''

9. Porter said a 2-1 loss at Cleveland State on Oct. 30 was the season's ''pivotal moment.''

"After 14 games it started slipping away. Maybe it was too easy,'' Porter said. "Then we lost for the first time in 40 games. It could have been a stumbling block, instead it was the biggest stepping stone. The captains and leadership took ownership after that day. I heard Kofi held his own team meeting after I left.  It was time for the coach to step back. That's when I knew we would never look back.''

10. Porter said he's never been shy in talking about NCAA championships in his five years at Akron and the Zips responded with the school's first national team title. But he recalled a day three years ago when he encountered an assistant coach from a school he wouldn't name.

"He said, 'How do you think you're going to win a national championship? You're Akron,''' Porter said. "Now we can answer, 'Yes, we are Akron and we're the national champions.''

11. The crowd was estimated at 1,500 and it seemed like half of them stayed afterward for autographs. The line for the players' table in the end zone on the upper deck stretched halfway around the arena.

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