“The Art of War” is one of the oldest and most celebrated books on military tactics.
It is renowned for the influence and insight Gen. Sun Tzu provides on strategy, and his fight-or-die mentality has become the guide to many successful military leaders.
But one scene stands out more than the others.
One scene illustrates a Chinese army stripped of its food, with its back against the river and only two options: fight or die.
“We told the team this story about a general who stuck his army with their backs against the river so they couldn’t retreat,” coach Kevin Boyd said. “He got rid of all their food. The only way they could survive is if they beat the other army and went to their camp and ate their food. We call that ‘fight or die.’”
This mentality, adopted by the Sun Devil soccer team before last Friday night’s game against Oregon State gave the team an edge that lifted it over the Beavers and carried on into Sunday’s win against the Oregon Ducks.
“You either fight and win or you die,” Boyd said. “We had to find a way to win. That’s what we discussed Friday night—we were in that spot, and we carried that through into Sunday as well. We’ve been saying the river’s at our back right now.”
With a 0-6-1 record going into Friday night and an NCAA Tournament selection announcement just two days away, the Sun Devils knew they had to win both games in order to stay alive.
And that’s exactly what happened.
Monday night, the 2009 NCAA Tournament teams were broadcast live on ESPN to a living room filled with nervous excitement, but when the Sun Devils were called, the room erupted.
“All day it’s been something everyone wanted to talk about, but it just made everybody so nervous,” senior defender Liz Harkin said. “We tried to go about our regular day, but everyone was so nervous. We weren’t eating, we didn’t sleep last night — it’s not quite real yet. It’s going to have to settle in a little bit, but it’s a great feeling.”
For the Sun Devils, who haven’t made a playoff appearance since 2003 and just missed a bid the last two years, securing their spot was that much sweeter.
“No one on this team has ever been to the playoffs before,” Boyd said. “Last time we were there was 2003. There isn’t anyone with any playoff experience on our squad. For them to get a taste of it now is just a credit to the season they had and the character they had going through the season. “The first half and how well we did and responding at the end when we needed to, especially against all the obstacles and challenges we faced with all the injuries and outside forces.”
Friday night, the Sun Devils will match up against Wisconsin in the first game of a single elimination NCAA tournament in Madison.
With the chilly conditions and the Big-10 opponent, the Sun Devils are planning on embracing change, knowing that with the tournament comes new situations and outside elements are only as big of an obstacle as you make them.
“One of the things we have been stressing since I got here is the ability to embrace adversity and make it yours,” Boyd said. “Here, obviously, it’s an issue of heat. It’s Arizona. Most teams come here and they have to deal with that, and we have to deal with that —learning how to cope with the heat in August, altitude, cold, referees, there’s all kinds of things that play into it — it doesn’t matter though.
“Those sorts of issues are only issues if you allow them to be, so we have been trying to teach them all along that these issues are controllable.”
The winner of Friday night’s game will face the winner of the matchup between Central Florida and Milwaukee on Sunday.
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