Two years ago, the men’s soccer team completed what can be described generously as a tough season. The Red was adjusting to a new head coach and struggled throughout the year. Finishing at 1-14-2 overall and 0-7 in Ivy League play, the future looked pretty bleak.
Fast forward to today. The Red is fresh off the heels of a turnaround season which saw them finish just a game below .500 while taking down key Ivy and non-conference rivals, including a victory over then-No. 11 Syracuse.
With all of last season’s successes and struggles behind them, head coach John Smith and his team have put on blinders and are ready for the upcoming season’s challenges.
One of these challenges is youth: a rare challenge for Ivy League squads. This season the Red will field an unusually young team — 21 out of 28 players on the roster are either freshmen or sophomores. The lone senior on this year’s squad, defender Ryan Bayne, said he is optimistic about the capabilities of the newcomers.
“I think they’ve assimilated really well,” Bayne said. “We had two scrimmages this weekend and all of them got plenty of minutes and they fit right into the system. All of the returners think they’re all great fits soccer-wise, but also personality-wise.”
The freshmen aren’t the only ones on the team who have had to adjust to new roles and routines. Sophomore midfielder Tommy Hansan, last year’s leading goal scorer, has naturally stepped into a leadership position among the young squad, taking a particular interest in the growth and development of the freshman class.
“It’s been a change because now we have a class of nine or 10 younger guys that look up to my class as guys that have a solid year under their belt,” Hansan said. “A lot of [my role] now is helping the guys around me, whether that’s in a practice or a game, on or off the field, just always checking on other guys rather than just being the naive freshman I was from last season.”
While the physical aspect of soccer has been an emphasis for Smith and his coaching staff, they have also tried to place a certain importance on mental and emotional readiness and well-being.
“We do a lot of teaching on the mental side of the game,” Smith said. “A lot of it is ‘this is how you’re supposed to act in this kind of a situation.’ We talk about guys being energy givers and not energy takers. Our preseason was tough, and they were incredible.They never looked fatigued emotionally.”
The freshman class is not the only group to be lauded for its offseason efforts, however. Smith said he’s impressed with returners’ physical and emotional fitness.
“The returners have come back in incredible shape,” Smith said. “Since I’ve been here … the level of the fitness is not even close. Both physically and it’s 100 percent obvious they’ve been mentally prepping over the summer which is a big concern for coaches in the Ivy League because [the players] just disappear for three months.”
With Bayne holding down the back line, a strong junior class and a growing confidence among sophomores, Smith’s squad gets its season started at 7 p.m. Friday at Binghamton, its first of three straight road games to start the year.