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Paneno's Perspective
By: UCLA Athletics

Dec. 9, 1999

Today is December 9, and the preparations for tomorrow's semifinal game kicked into high gear today because this is the last time we were able to acclimate ourselves to our environment before we step onto the field tomorrow against Indiana. Luckily, our coach let us wake up a little bit later this morning, and we rolled out of bed around 11:00. Soon thereafter, the team dressed in the same attire, and we all went to lunch together. This was our first real meal together of the day, and everyone was real excited to see each other. There was a good sense of excitement there at the lunch tables. After lunch, the coach gave us some leisure time on our own so we could hang out and relax a little bit before practice. I myself just decided to go to my own room and relax on my bed and get ready for the day's activities with a nice shower.

At 2:00 the team in our training gear boarded the bus and headed off to Ericsson Stadium for our walk-through. Upon arriving to Ericsson Stadium it was really almost mind-boggling how large this facility is. I don't think many people on our team have played in such large facilities. Just being there and stepping out onto the field in that huge stadium and realizing that tomorrow night this is where it's all going to take place gave us all goosebumps. It made everybody realize that this is what the College Cup is all about. I took a lap around the field and took a few pictures. I realized that this is where my college career was going to end. It brought a smile to my face to see how far this team has come, and hopefully to realize where it's going.

Prior to practice at UNC-Charlotte, a few members of our team had a press conference, and the rest of the team accompanied them and watched the press conference. This was kind of an exciting time because this is when it finalizes the fact that we're here and that this is a very important event when we see our teammate being interviewed by members of the press. So it was exciting seeing Sasha Victorine, Pete Vagenas, Nick Rimando and McKinley Tennyson up there in front of all those reporters. I think it really heightens the anticipation for Friday's game.

After the press conference, the team had practice, and today's practice was very intense - so intense that a few of the guys were getting on each others' nerves a little bit. There was an edgy sense of honoring this out on the field. I think it's just the fact that we're tired with the preparations and really want to get this thing going and everyone really wants to play this game. So I think that contributed to the environment a little bit at practice.

After that, the team returned to the hotel and got into our suit and tie and went to the tournament banquet. Luckily, the event was held right across the street, so we walked over there together as a team. The banquet was a very nice spectacle. It was held in Founders Hall downtown, and it was very beautiful. They had a video presentation, dinner, the whole works. I think this combined with the press conference made the players realize how important the College Cup really is and how special it is that we're given the opportunity to play in this type of environment.

So just the fact that we got to walk through the stadium, that we got to go to this nice banquet, that we had this big press conference and had a great practice today that was filled with nervous anticipation, I think that's making us realize how important this whole trip is and how lucky we all are to be here. So hopefully come tomorrow all this preparation and all the training and all the things this team has been doing to get here will pay off and we'll show Indiana what we're all about and hopefully come out victorious.


Dec. 8, 1999

"Wednesday the 8th is the traveling day to the Final Four for the team, and at 9:00 in the morning, our team met on campus, where we took a bus to the airport. The attire for the traveling squad is coat and tie mainly because since we're going to the Final Four, we like to take a professional approach to the weekend. Therefore we decided that coat and tie would be appropriate because we look at it like a business trip in that we're here to take care of a job we have to do and it helps get everyone in the right mind-frame for the games upcoming.

The flight lasted about four hours, and after a short delay we were on our way. Unfortunately, the flight was so full that a lot of us didn't get to sit together or even get any comfortable seats for that matter. So the flight was rather long, but once we landed and got our baggage we were able to travel to UNC-Charlotte and use their facilities where the team had to jog and stretch, which is customary after a long plane flight like that to loosen ourselves up and get the lactic acid out of our legs from the long flight. We did that upon landing, and it wasn't till about 9:00 when we finally got into the hotel and were able to shower and change and have a good meal.

The entire day was primarily spent traveling. It was very tiring, and now that we're settled in our hotel, it's basically just continuing the preparations for the game on Friday - a lot of liquids, and we're trying to eat as healthy as possible to get ready for the game. Now it's a matter of us having to adjust to the time change, so tonight's sleeping schedule is a little more lenient than normal. We'll actually get to sleep in tomorrow, which is nice. So all of these events are in a way trying to prepare us for Friday's game. And even though today was a long day of travel, the spirits of the team are quite high, and the workout today went well. I think that everyone is in the right frame of mind considering what our job is here, and we all know what we have to do. So hopefully tomorrow and Friday we'll continue our preparations and end up ready to play when it counts.

Dec. 7, 1999

"I woke up this morning at 7:15. Today's routine took on a different dynamic because today was the last practice at UCLA in my career. After I went into the training room for treatment, I went to the locker room to change. All of the routine things I do at each practice I didn't take for granted because it was the last time I would be doing that here at UCLA. So right away today became a special day. The other seniors commented on it - we wanted everyone to realize it's kind of a special day in our careers. It's exciting at the same time because while we're leaving UCLA and it's our last practice, we're also going to the Final Four. It's kind of a bittersweet emotion.

There was definitely a sense of urgency this morning before practice. There are only three other teams in the nation who are doing what we're doing. It made us feel how lucky we are and how proud we should be just to walk out on the field one more time.

After dressing and putting on the practice uniform, I walked out with a few of the other seniors and reminisced about our freshman year. It still feels like just yesterday when we were freshmen dealing with the nerves of our first practice. And now here we are at our last practice here at UCLA.

The team was excited during practice. We played a little bit within the practice, and there was good attitude between the team. After practice I took a few moments and took some pictures with the other seniors. It was a special moment because everyone took the time to realize what an important moment this is in our careers and what we're getting ready to try to accomplish. The sense of camaraderie and team unity really was evident in today's practice. Today was the last day the entire squad was together before the Final Four, and it was really good to see the players not on the travel roster pushing the others to play their best.

I took a moment after practice to reflect on how lucky I've been to play four years here at UCLA and on the great experiences I've had on the North Athletic Field. When I walked back to shower, the bittersweet feelings came back to me, but I was excited most of all. We're all excited, anxious to go to North Carolina, to fall into our routine there and get acclimated to the weather and time change. Basically, there's a lot of excitement in the air to go and win this championship. So that was my routine for the day, as far as athletics goes.

Now I have to deal with five hours of schoolwork ahead of me. It's really difficult to balance these two requirements now. On one hand, you want to do well in school, and that's very important, but on the other hand, your mind is always wandering back to Carolina, on what Indiana's going to bring, on what we're going to have to do to stop them. So I'm constantly struggling between thinking about the soccer aspect of my life and the academic aspects. That's kind of what's difficult about today, especially since it's our last day here. But I've completed all my requirements for class today, so I really have no more worries. It's just the process of going through and sitting in class and being prepared for when I return and take my finals next week. You have to look ahead to that - it's another important aspect the team has to deal with.

After class I have to go through my whole situation of packing, which is pretty much routine by now. I usually pack just about the same thing every trip. But this trip takes on a different dynamic now because you have to plan on two games now instead of one. You try to stay as close to your routine as possible, but at the same time you think - "Wow - these are the two biggest games of the season." That kind of affects you a little bit in all aspects of your preparation.

Finally, the rest of my day will consist of getting a good meal, hydrating myself and getting ready to travel tomorrow because we have to travel a long way, unfortunately. But once we get there, it's all about winning, and hopefully we'll be prepared."


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