Supported by a more mature culture and new group of gritty freshman, the Cornell men’s soccer team has much to smile about more than halfway through the 2017 season.
With close wins over strong teams in Syracuse and Harvard, as well as hard-fought wins against Colgate and Binghamton, Cornell (6-4-2, 1-1-1 Ivy) is in position to further obliterate its win percentage from last year.
Head coach John Smith believes that determining how his team has developed over the last 12 months goes far beyond the team’s record of wins and losses.
“Outsiders will always judge us by what the win-loss column says,” he said. “I had my best coaching season of my entire career last year, and I only won one game.”
Much of Smith’s work has included instilling a sense of accountability in his players, shifting that burden away in an attempt to make his players “culture warriors.”
Smith has worked tirelessly to ensure his players embody certain qualities and focus on “attitude, mentality, drive and desire … the things that don’t require any talent, but are pivotal in competitive sporting environments.”
Clearly, much had to be done in order to develop many of the returning players into these “culture warriors.”
“We haven’t taken a different approach this year from last.” Smith said. “The only difference is time — a number of these guys have been around us long enough to realize how much of an emphasis we put on setting the right culture.”
This culture has been instilled in all returning members who had to go through the “ugly” parts of the rebuilding processes. “I feel for last year’s group because they just didn’t have enough time to go through the necessary changes,” Smith said.
This year, the players’ ability to buy into what Smith has been developing over the past 365 days has begun to shine. Junior Ryan Hill’s game winning goal against nationally ranked Syracuse can be seen as an initial product of the new culture.
Hill had not played at all during the season until that away match at Syracuse. “He had, however, approached training with an exemplary attitude and commitment, and fully deserved his opportunity when he got it,” Smith noted.
This patience, despite such limited playing time, and ability to step up in the Red’s biggest game of the season, showed how hard Hill worked despite adversity as well as what the Red is capable of as a whole.
The numbers show that the group has been meticulous and gritty on the field thus far this season. On average, they have outshot their opponents by 20 percent. Their physicality has been apparent in their combined 20 yellow cards compared to their opponents’ 13.
The new freshmen have also had a large impact on both ends of the field.
“We brought in our first recruiting class, and one we felt would help us on the field and complement the core of returnees,” Smith said.
The freshmen have done just that. Freshman Tommy Hansen leads the team with four goals in the first 12 games of the season. With two goals against St. Francis to lift the Red to a 2-1 win, and one goal against Colgate to help secure a 4-3 win last week, Hansen has quickly proven his worth to a vastly improved squad.
“Their arrival helped create a competitiveness within the program which we were lacking last year,” Smith said of his freshmen. “Guys have to look over their shoulders now, which is healthy in this kind of an environment.”
Likewise, freshman defenseman Richie Hrncir leads the team in minutes, and freshman midfielder Tyler Bagley has helped the team out with one goal and three assists.
The Red will look to finish its season strong, with five games remaining in the regular season, four against fellow Ivy League teams, Brown, Princeton, Dartmouth and Columbia.
“The good thing about this group is that they realize there is so much room for growth and improvement,” Smith said.
As the Red looks to translate its newfound culture into wins down the stretch, Smith has made it clear that the group cannot be content with its first half success; greatness requires consistent effort and determination.
“I love seeing their grit and combativeness when the going is tough just as much as I love seeing the elation on their faces when things are going great,” he said.
Even now, still in the early stages of Red’s new culture movement, the guys will look for more elation after some gritty wins down the stretch.