The UNCG men’s soccer team features prominently in my day. As a student-athlete myself, I share the locker room area, athletic training room, and equipment room with last year’s Southern Conference regular-season champions, and my walk home encircles their practice field. Occasionally, I’m awarded the privilege of seeing the team at work as I pass by every day. I sporadically get to see this team made of guys originating from the far reaches of the globe synch up with watch-like precision. I’m proud to attend their games, go to the same athletic department functions, and run in the same social circles as the team.
As both a fan and a friend last season was one of gut-wrenching ups and downs. I had the honor of seeing the team finish the regular season at the top of the Southern Conference. These guys beat the teams that we in cross-country also seek to take down. They were the team to cheer for, but also the team to beat. The emotional high of seeing men’s soccer take down all challengers was followed by the shock of seeing the team come up just short against East Tennessee State in the Southern Conference Tournament. I, personally, was heartbroken.
“The ETSU game was really hard to take. We were the best team going into the tournament, but the best team doesn’t always win,” said head coach Justin Maullin. Maullin, standing well over six feet tall and built like a truck; is the first in the athletic department to greet passers-by with a smile. The native of South Africa is well aware that his team was the best team in the conference last year.
According to Maullin, a major contributing factor in the ultimate outcome of last year’s SoCon tournament was the fact that now-graduated star player Jacques Francois was on the bench. “Player of the year Jacques Francois had to sit and watch that game due to yellow card accumulation. With him, perhaps the result would have been different.” Undeniably, sitting out a star player was a hard pill for the team to swallow. Maullin, however, was positive about the team’s attitude going into this year’s season. “The players will use that loss as motivation to win the tournament on our home ground this year.”
Given this motivation, men’s soccer certainly has a lot to be excited about looking ahead to the season. As alluded to above, the Spartans will host this year’s Southern Conference tournament. On top of this, the blue and gold has been graced with a number one preseason ranking in the conference and, a conference high, four players on the All-SoCon preseason team. “These rankings bring with them a huge bull’s eye. For us, though, this year is no different than any other year. The expectation is the same, we want to win championships.” The task will, as always, not be an easy one. The team lost quite a few seniors, and losing Jacques Francois will certainly not make the task of winning a conference championship any easier.
“That was and is the biggest question this year. Who will replace Jacques? It’s extremely difficult to replace a player of his caliber and athletic ability” coach Maullin acknowledges. That being said, he believes that the production of Francois can come from multiple players instead of one amazing star.
“I don’t think we have a player of his ability however we do have several good players that can all pitch in a score more goals to help with the 10 goals we lost with Jaques last year.”
However, if last years freshman class is anything to go by, men’s soccer looks to continue its tradition of bringing in and developing fantastic recruits.
As this issue goes to the presses, the team will be returning from a series of games in Florida. The first home game will take place on Friday, September 2 at 7:00pm, when the Spartans will face off against the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Unlike last year’s tournament which were held on ESTU’s campus, this year’s tournament will be held here in Greensboro this November. As the expectations for the UNCG men’s soccer team are extremely high this year and with probably the best team on campus currently playing, the UNCG student body has the chance to see great soccer for the next three months.