After finishing last season with a middling, sub-.500 record, Cornell men’s soccer opened this season on strong footing, comfortably downing Binghamton 2-0 and St. Francis 4-2 on the road.
Heading into the weekend, how the Red would grapple with its relatively inexperienced roster — 21 of the team’s 28 players are underclassmen, with only a single senior — loomed large. Facing a shortened preseason due to scheduling changes, head coach John Smith had to quickly ready the team’s 11 incoming freshmen for the demands of D1 soccer.
While the transition continues to be a work-in-progress, the Red’s decisive pair of wins put any lingering concerns regarding the team’s youthfulness to rest.
“For us, it’s a fantastic start,” Smith said. “With the shortened preseason we had, it’s important that you prep as best as you can by cramming stuff in. We filled these guys with a lot of information … but they retained a heck of a lot of it and we were deserved winners in both games.”
Though prepping for the rigors of a long NCAA season involves plenty of strenuous, physical training, Smith’s coaching philosophy is defined equally by preparing players mentally in order to better face adversity.
“The ones who made it through the dark times, the tough times will be the ones who laid the bedrock for future successes,” Smith said.
That approach appeared to pay dividends in both games, but the Red’s depth and determination was on particular display in its matchup against St. Francis.
Despite trailing the Terriers for the first 40 minutes, Cornell freshman Emeka Eneli scored his second collegiate goal, followed two minutes later by a goal from lone senior and captain Ryan Bayne, to bring the half time tally to 2-1. Two more goals, combined with junior goalkeeper Ryan Shellow’s five saves, ultimately notched Cornell a 4-2 victory over St. Francis.
“The game was really unsettled in the first 15 minutes but once we got our feet underneath us there was never any question about who was going to come out on top,” Bayne said. “With turf, there’s a lot more physical battles because the ball is bouncing around a lot more and so you have to be up for that battle. The guys were just warriors [and] that’s why we beat [St. Francis].”
The Red will travel to Easton, Pennsylvania, where it will kick off against Lafayette College this Friday at 7 p.m.