It was my sophomore year. We weren’t expected to be much. Was the soccer team ever expected to do much anyway? It was an accomplishment to get a couple wins each season, but coming off a 0-17-1 season freshman year made a few wins seem impossible. Coming off of a winless season made the boys’ soccer team the laughing stock of the school. Going to a football centralized high school, there was always the football team to pick up “the slack” for soccer’s struggle during the fall season.
We had just brought in a new coach the year before that had lots of experience, along with his two sons who I had played travel soccer with most of my life. With the realization that they could be the key to changing the soccer program around, we started more long, intense practices throughout the scorching heat of the summer. I could tell these practices would have a huge positive impact on our season, but the lack of commitment from some of our players were dragging the team down. It is hard to get back on the pitch after not winning a game the year before, but the only way to fix it was through hard work and determination from every person on our team. The biggest downfall for our team was the lack of soccer experience as a whole. Only 10 kids out of 25 on our team had ever played soccer before, with only 4 playing competitive sometime in their life. We had to rely on our motto “Out Play, Out Work, Out Hustle” to even have a chance of competing with the other teams.
It was the week of our first preseason game. We had pretty high expectations for ourselves, with the hopes of winning at least 5 of our 18 games this season, or a few more if we got lucky. But Coach had a different goal in mind, telling us after every practice, “We are going to win at least half of our games this year.” How would we pull out a .500 record when the last time the boys soccer team actually had a winning record was 10 years ago in a division VI league, while we were currently in a division III league? Out of all that I had learned from our coach during the summer practices, the one thing that stood out to me was his determination that pushed this team of outcasts to do and play our best, and his belief in every player as well as our team as a whole that we would be able to accomplish this goal.
The pain of not winning a game the year prior pushed us to victory twice that week, winning both 5-2 and 4-1 to start on a 2-0 record. A week later we picked up our third and fourth victories with 11-0 and 5-1 wins. All of these preseason games boosted our confidence to a whole new level and finally brought back a little bit of pride to being on the soccer team. But, the most challenging part was yet to come: the regular season. Having less than 400 kids at a high school with over 15 different sports was already a challenge, but putting a supposed-to-be division V school into a division III sports league was unheard of. All of the odds were stacked against us going into an exciting and never forgotten regular season.
With a heavy burden from last year to carry, we had a rough season start with a 6-2 loss against a top team in the league. But, the regular season losing streak finally came to an end with a 5-2 win over a league rival. The win felt like we had just won a State Championship and the over-excitement of the win took a heavy toll against us, taking 3 straight losses by an average of 3 goals. At the halfway point in the season, we were ecstatic over having a winning record of 5-4 and achieving our season goal, but we knew we still had work to do to fulfill the goal our coach had set for us. The midway season excitement carried on over the next couple weeks, helping us to improve our record after going 3-2 in the next 5 games. Being one game away from reaching our coach’s goal that we never thought was possible, every game was crucial. Taking on the top two teams in league in one week, we took both teams down to the final minutes, only to lose 3-2 the first game and 4-3 the second game. Now all of the pressure to win on our senior night against our rivals was building up, each of us wanting to get a win for the seniors who deserved it the most. Through the thick and thin of the game on senior night, we played as a unified team to pull out a hard fought win of 5-3. Still in shock we even made it to having at least a .500 record, we celebrated like we had just won the lottery.
Finishing up the season with a both a win and a loss led us to ending with a 10-8 record, an accomplishment for the soccer program that hadn’t of happened since 2006. The historic season brought our team that had gone winless the year before to a record over .500 for the season. With a goal in mind to make it to the playoffs next year, the grind and determination carried over to lead us to a 16-6-4 overall record in the 2016-2017 season and clinching a playoff spot for the first time in 12 years. Through the good and bad times, the soccer team that I am a part of has ever changed me as a player and as a person. The heart and willingness to improve unified us as one team over the years and turned the soccer program around from being nothing to something.