Dartmouth among tourney surprises

11/26/2010 - NCAA Men's Soccer

You know how it is with kids these days, right? How they want it all right away, don't have any patience, can't see the value in waiting, aren't up for working toward anything they can't be sure they'll get.

It's a popular lament … but, of course, it's certainly not always true. There are still those who plug away, keep the faith and refuse to give up.

That may not give them anything other than a valuable lesson in building character. But sometimes, they get that -- plus exactly what they'd been toiling for all along.

That's where Lyman Missimer is right now.

"I know it sounds like such a cliché," he said. "But persistence is key."

After a career in which he's played behind both someone older and someone younger, has dealt with injuries and uncertainty, Missimer will be in goal for Dartmouth on Sunday when the Big Green men's soccer team faces No. 8 UCLA in the NCAA tournament.

Dartmouth is one of three unseeded teams to advance to the Sweet 16 -- along with Michigan State and Brown -- and the only team in the field that's won two tournament games on the road.

And Missimer's story is one of those where, if you wrote it as a fictional script, you'd be accused of excessive dramatic hyperbole.

So you're telling me this guy, despite being a bit undersized for Division I (he's generously listed at 6-foot), wants to be a goalkeeper at the same Ivy League school where his dad played in goal three decades earlier? And after the kid gets there and waits for the all-league standout ahead of him to graduate, he starts a couple of games as a junior ... but then is eclipsed by a freshman keeper?

Then midway through his senior season, he gets the starting nod again but is clocked so hard during a game that he doesn't remember playing the second half? So he has to sit out again, but one last time earns the starting job? And he helps the team make the NCAA tournament, where in the second round he faces 14 corner kicks in the second half alone? He ends up with 12 saves in the game, which his team wins in overtime?

Come on! You really expect anybody to believe all of that?

"I knew I'd have to wait to play," Missimer said of coming to Dartmouth. "But I thought it would be worth it. I guess it didn't work out at first, but it's working out now. It's kind of like a dream come true."

Missimer's first two seasons at Dartmouth, Sean Milligan was the starting keeper. When Milligan finished his all-Ivy League career, another Sean -- rookie Sean Donovan -- came in and took over the starting job after Missimer had it for just two games.

"I think after last season," Missimer said of his junior year, "I was resigned to the fact that I could not quite fill his shoes in regard to soccer."

Whose shoes? His father's. He's Lyman Missimer III, who had played at Dartmouth in 1975-79 and was a three-time all-Ivy League selection in goal. The thing is, Lyman III had never intended for his son, Lyman IV, to feel he had to measure up to anything or anybody.

That's why Missimer really didn't know about the legacy while growing up. His father didn't have Dartmouth paraphernalia all over house or anything. It really wasn't until Missimer began the recruiting process that he found out the extent of his dad's soccer accomplishments.

"He never really talked about his college playing career," Missimer said. "All his [awards] were at my grandparents' house.

"He was always someone to let me make my own decisions. When I started looking at Dartmouth, then he said, 'Yeah, that's my school.' When he found out I wanted to go there to, he was totally supportive."

Arriving at college in New Hampshire out of The Woodlands High School in Texas, Missimer didn't see action his freshman season, then played one match in reserve as a sophomore. After two starts as a junior, he worked especially hard this past summer to try to finally win the starting job for good as a senior. But a tear in his right quad muscle just before the season started thwarted that.

Still, he did get the call to start in the ninth match, Oct. 6 against Vermont. And wouldn't you know …

"I got knocked hard on a corner. I think either my head hit the ground, or [an opponent's] shoulder hit my head," Missimer said. "But I got right back up and kept playing. So nobody knew I was hurt. I didn't even know. But I'd say from halftime until the bus ride home was just blank."

Indeed, afterward, he kept asking if the team had won (it had, 3-2) and if he'd played well (he had, for his first victory of the season in goal). When everyone realized he wasn't joking around -- he really had suffered a concussion -- that meant he was out for two more games. And you could understand if, at that point, he would have been very discouraged, right?

"But I thought, There's no way -- I've come this far," he said. "I'm not giving up now."

And now, the last month has been like something from a Disney movie. Dartmouth has won six games in a row with Missimer in goal, three of them shutouts. That included in the NCAA's first round, a 4-0 victory over No. 13 seed Monmouth in New Jersey.

"Our defensive guys playing in front of me have been incredible," Missimer said. "They've won everything in the air, no one is getting by them, and it's made my job easier.

"And our offensive guys are incredible. They've been putting goals in early and getting us the lead."

Still, a lot was on Missimer's shoulders in the second round at No. 9 seed Notre Dame last Sunday. A strong wind kept play more in the Irish's end in the first half, then more in Dartmouth's end in the second. That's when Missimer had to face 14 corners.

He knew everyone was gassed once the game went to overtime. A second OT would have been especially grueling. But in the 99th minute, Andrew Olsen avoided that, scoring his second goal of the game and putting Dartmouth into the Sweet 16 for the second time in the last three seasons.

"Really, the last month we've had to play with that do-or-die attitude," Missimer said. "We couldn't afford to lose another game or we wouldn't make the tournament. You know you have to put away your chances and perform like it's the last game of your life every time.

"We've had that attitude ingrained in our play and our mindset. We've built up our confidence and resilience."

You could say that resilience is something Missimer's been working on for a long time. And if someday he has children of his own, when they hear the story of their dad's soccer career -- especially the way he is finishing it -- they'll think that's quite a legacy, too.

Spartan success

Speaking of fantastic finishes …

Michigan State had not been to the NCAA Sweet 16 in men's soccer since 1968. But the Spartans are back there now, and they also had quite a dramatic story in their second-round game.

Unseeded Michigan State beat No. 13 seed Butler in Indianapolis, handing the Bulldogs their only defeat this season. The Horizon League champs had had three ties.

The Spartans topped the Bulldogs 1-0 on a goal from an unlikely source considering the circumstances: senior midfielder Jeff Ricondo, who had missed the previous seven games with an injury.

"Being my senior season, it was kind of up in the air whether I'd be back or not after I was hurt," said Ricondo, who went out Oct. 17. "It was rough sitting, especially in the first round against Oakland. But being able to come back and make a positive impact was great."

He practiced all week but entered the game against Butler with only 10 minutes remaining. About four minutes after he took the field, he scored unassisted from 20 yards. It was his fourth goal this season.

We knew they were unbeaten and a great team," Ricondo said of Butler. "But we had one of the tougher schedules in the country, so we were battle-tested. We were confident going in."

Michigan State goes to Chapel Hill, N.C., to face No. 4 seed North Carolina on Sunday.

"The ACC is always known, of course, for having very good soccer," Ricondo said. "But we've had some tough games on the road, including at Maryland. So having that schedule has prepared us for this."

Sweet 16 breakdown

All eight matches will be played Sunday. The other unseeded team in the round of 16 is Brown, which upset No. 11 UConn 7-6 on penalty kicks after a 1-1 tie. That means the Ivy League is one of three leagues with two teams left; along with the ACC (North Carolina and Maryland) and Pac-10 (UCLA and Cal).

The Big Ten (Indiana, Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, Penn State) leads all leagues with five squads in the Sweet 16.

Mechelle Voepel is a columnist for ESPN.com. She can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com.

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