As a sports fan, I was interested in talking to Ross Middlemiss.
As a sportswriter, I wasn’t too excited about asking him to rehash the worst moment of his soccer career.
OK, some background:
Middlemiss is a senior forward at Sonoma State who had one of the best seasons in Seawolves’ history, perhaps the best when including both his academic and athletic excellence. A part-time starter as a junior, Middlemiss had a senior season no one saw coming. He scored 18 goals, added nine assists and was named the West Region Player of the Year and the California Collegiate Athletic Association Player of the Year. His 18 goals are the third-most in school history.
In addition, he was named to the ESPN The Magazine Academic All-America first team, becoming the only SSU player in any sport to receive first-team honors. (He is a biology major with a minor in environmental science and has a 3.84 GPA).
As brilliant as his season was, however, his postseason couldn’t have been much worse. In the first round of the NCAA West Regional last week, second-seeded SSU was upset by No. 3 Cal State Los Angeles. The Seawolves lost 5-4 on penalty kicks after playing to a 1-1 tie.
The guy who missed SSU’s penalty kick? You guessed it: Middlemiss.
With that in mind I was interested in talking to him. Was his improbably brilliant season now forever tainted by one missed kick? Was he over it? Would he, could he, even talk about it?
I’d written a feature story on Middlemiss earlier in the season. We talked in a library on campus and I left impressed by his maturity and intelligence. Plus, I liked him on a personal level. He was nice guy who seemed to be the same blue-collar worker he was before he started scoring a goal every few seconds.
With all that stuff in mind, I didn’t want to call and pester him about a failure that was less than one week old.
I shouldn’t have worried. Middlemiss isn’t exactly your average college athlete. Less than a minute into our conversation he told me “It actually helps to talk about it.”
Yes, he can talk about it. And, yes, he’s going to survive.
“It will be a little extra agony for me for awhile because I missed the penalty kick,” Middlemiss said. “But I wanted to be in that situation. I stepped up and kicked it and the goalie made a great save.”
The Cal State L.A. coaching staff had watched SSU beat CSU Dominguez Hills on penalty kicks in the CCAA Tournament the previous week.
“They had scouted us the week before and knew which way we liked to kick our penalty kicks,” Middlemiss said. “I had an idea they knew, but I kicked it the same way anyway. I figured if I kicked it well he wasn’t going to stop it. But it wasn’t my best kick and he got a fingertip on it and knocked it off the post.”
Middlemiss said he briefly felt like his world was falling apart in the aftermath. He said it helped that his parents were at the game and that he was surrounded by his teammates. The Seawolves came home Friday and spent much of weekend hanging out together.
Middlemiss still wants to play soccer after college. And I hope he gets his wish. But I figure whatever happens, he’ll be able to handle it.