Men’s soccer fighting through slow start to season
When you’re picked to finish first in the Horizon League preseason rankings and you start out 1-4, it’s certainly not the start that the players, coaching staff or fans expected.
“The only good thing about this start is that it won’t affect our conference play,” defender Seth Petrey (Sr.) said. “Right now we are 0-0-0 in conference and we have learned from these early games. Once conference starts we’ll be on the right track.”
Returning players like Petrey know from first-hand experience that preseason polls aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.
“Last year we were picked to finish last and we came in second,” Petrey said. “Everyone on the team knows that rankings don’t mean a thing.”
While the injury-plagued Raiders have stumbled out of the gate, Head Coach Bryan Davis isn’t concerned.
“We’ve taken a lot of injuries and we’re gelling a lot later than planned,” Davis said. “But we have a good team with a bunch of guys really playing for each other.”
The Raiders already had an exhibition match with Marquette and regular season match ups on the road against Coastal Carolina and Xavier, who just dropped out of the top 25 poll.
The Raiders held their own in each of those three matches, drawing Marquette, taking Coastal Carolina to double overtime and leading Xavier for nearly 60 minutes before conceding two goals within two minutes.
“We’re playing this non-conference schedule as if there’s one game left in the season,” Davis said. “We’ll play it and move on.”
Despite the losses, the Raiders are on a home stand they hope will get things going in the right direction for a program focused on making its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1998.
“This is our home field,” Petrey said. “We practice on it every day and we are looking to defend our home turf. Plus, we’ll hopefully get some good crowds out to the games to really get that home field advantage. We really appreciate the support that we get from the fans.”
Strategy-wise, Davis said the team is “going back to basics.”
“We plan on being the harder working team on both sides of the ball for 90 minutes,” Davis said.
With the way the Horizon League tournament is set up, only the top six teams from the conference get to participate so the Raiders are glad to see their league record at 0-0-0.
That next step begins Friday night as the Raiders host Niagara. The rest of the home stand includes Western Michigan (Sept. 18) and then the first conference game of the season against Illinois-Chicago (Sept. 22).
“Our main goal right now is just to make the conference tournament,” Petrey said. “Everyone on the team definitely wants to win the tournament, but we have to make the tournament first. We are just focusing on one step at a time.”