UNC Asheville’s men’s soccer team defeated the USC Upstate Spartans 1-0, capturing their first Big South Conference win of the season, and their first conference victory since October 25, 2017 when they beat Winthrop 1-0.
Last season the men’s soccer team did not win a single soccer match against any Big South opponents, with their only wins coming against non-conference bouts against VMI and Woffard. This win hopes to grant momentum to a team that has struggled in the past seasons, and with a new season comes promising new players and different team goals.
“It was a great team win and a fantastic job by the staff and the players. I couldn’t be prouder of the effort from everyone in preparing on short rest. It was a Big South Conference game, so of course it’s going to be very topsy turvy,” said Head Coach Mathes Mennell in a statement made after the game. “I thought Upstate was very good tonight, and we were maybe a little fortunate that they didn’t finish some of their chances, but our guys showed great resilience and great character. We talked about getting back to the things we do well, and overall I think we played OK in terms of what we’re capable of, but in terms of the tangible part of the game – the effort, the grind, the grittiness, just being resolute in the approach and finding a way to win – I give our team top marks. It was a good performance and we’ll enjoy this on the way back to Asheville, and then we’re on to High Point.”
This season the bulldogs have already matched their win total from 2018 with two wins. Many of their games have low scoring defensive matchups with the Bulldogs not scoring over two goals in any match.
“We’re used to getting in those types of battles. We have had a lot of games like that this season where we have to play defensive and take our chances when we can get them,” said Junior Forward Tyson Hichman.
The most noteworthy player on the team so far this season has been the freshman goalkeeper Jarrett Payne. In 16 games Payne has accumulated 81 saves, the highest of any Division 1 goalkeeper and over ten more saves than the 2nd highest goalie. The rookie earned his first shutout of his career against the Upstate Spartans. While this is impressive, it could also Natindicate an increased number of shots on goal given up by the defense.
Despite this stat, the players are confident in their backline, saying that Freshman Kaleem Shabout has done an excellent job preventing shot in his first season.
“Our backline has been solid at keeping out goals and keeping our team together,” said Hichman. “We’re such a tight knit group and were going to work hard for each other.”
Hichman is playing in his first season at UNCA, transferring from UNC Greensboro last spring. The junior has four goals, the most through the first ten games. Hichman and his teammate Nate Evans, who scored the winning goal against the Spartans, say that the team needs to improve on creating and seizing more opportunities for goals.
The teammates had similar mentalities to how they approach these conference games, by playing each game with the same attitude and not focusing on the past or the other team but focusing on themselves.
The game against Upstate was again a defensive battle, the only goal coming from Evans in the 56th minute of the game. The Bulldogs earned the victory but were still out shot 23 to 5. Payne had eight saves during this game compared to the Upstate goalkeeper who only had two.
“I don’t think there’s a better feeling than scoring a goal, especially when that goal is the game winner,” said sophomore Evans, “It felt amazing to be able to celebrate with my teammates. I’m not sure if there is a college program that is as good friends on the field as they are off the field.”
Hichman agrees that the team’s chemistry is one of its strongest aspects.
The season for men’s soccer has entered into the second half where the opponents will be mostly Big South teams vying to collect conference wins and qualify for the playoffs. The test for the bulldogs now will be to maintain their momentum they have gained in their first shutout win of the season.
“It’s a different mentality when you step into the locker room. These are the games that matter. These are the games that will get you into the playoffs,” Evans said.