Sports Staff Writer
UNC Asheville men’s soccer has been far from perfect this season as the team currently sits on a 1-7-1 record. Still, the Bulldogs remain hopeful for the season.
“I’ve never seen a group of people who want to win as bad as the kids that are on this team,” said Ben Katt, freshman midfielder for the Bulldogs.
With six conference games left on the schedule, the Bulldogs concentrate on their Big South opponents.
“We’re really focused on the Big South games and succeeding in the conference,” said Mac Gourlay, redshirt freshman defender for UNCA.
The Bulldogs are currently 0-2 in conference play, but that doesn’t mean they are out of the running for Big South champions.
“We’re at the midpoint of the season and there are 18 points on offer at the Big South tournament,” said Mathes Mennell, head coach of the Bulldogs since January 2015. “It’s completely wide open.”
Izaiah Vignali, another freshman midfielder for the Bulldogs, says the key to finding wins is staying consistent for a full game.
“Right now we’ll stay consistent for 80 minutes and sleep for 10 minutes and that’s where we give up goals,” Vignali said. “That’s where it costs us.”
Despite the issue with consistency the Bulldogs still see improvement.
“A lot of the things that have been struggles in the past we’re starting to improve on,” Gourlay said.
Evan Lewis, a freshman defender for UNCA, agrees the Bulldogs are improving.
“Our team chemistry is a lot better, we’re getting better and better every day,” Lewis said.
The team consists of mostly younger students. Almost half of the players on the team are freshman, 14 out of 29.
18 out of 29 players on the team are from North Carolina. Gourlay, an Asheville resident, transferred from North Carolina State University to play at UNCA and be closer to home.
“I never really wanted to admit to myself that I wanted to stay home and go to a school that was at home, but it was always in the back of my mind and there was always a gap in me that wanted to come here and help change the program and help it move in a positive direction,” Gourlay said. “I think I finally realized that and decided to transfer and I’m very happy with my decision.”
Lewis, another Asheville resident, says that UNCA is the right fit for him.
“Personally I love Asheville as a city and I just love the area,” Lewis said.
So much of the team being from North Carolina provides a unique perspective for the players to build their chemistry off of.
“We’re getting really good team chemistry,” Vignali said. “It’s looking good.”
As the team continues to build bonds through this season and future seasons they hope to bring that chemistry to the field.
Being a part of a team has its ups and downs according to Mennell.
“I think that it’s a men’s college soccer team so you’re gonna have all the wonderful things that come with it and there are gonna be some challenges as well,” Mennell said. “Those challenges when put in perspective and continued to work on are going to be positive things in the future.”
Those challenges don’t just come on the field. Many lessons athletes learn at a collegiate level can be applied to the real world as well. Mennell uses the issue of playing a full 90 minute game as an example to his team that in life you have to give it your all.
“I think the really dangerous lesson is when you don’t turn in a complete 90 minute performance and you get away with it, because then down the road when it’s really crucial you think ‘I’ve gotten away with this,’” Mennell said. “What a wonderful lesson in a non-threatening environment that the little things do in fact matter and my everyday focus and my everyday commitment to the group really does matter.”
Although this season hasn’t gone the way the Bulldogs had hoped, the fire in their hearts is still strong. Looking ahead, their goal remains the same as the start of the season: to be crowned the Big South champions.
“Our heads are set on winning the Big South,” Gourlay said.