Despite tournament heartbreaker, men’s soccer motivated for next season

Ashley Tysiac, Sports Writer

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Photo provided by UNC Asheville Athletics
UNC Asheville men’s soccer huddles during a win against Longwood in February.

It seemed as if UNC Asheville men’s soccer had a chance to pull off a stunning upset.
An overtime thriller commenced to determine a winner in the Big South Conference men’s soccer semifinal game between UNC Asheville and nationally-ranked High Point on April 14, but ultimately the No. 1 seeded Panthers came away with the 1-0 win despite an impressive fight from the Bulldogs in the team’s first appearance in the tournament since 2016.  
Despite the heartbreaking loss to end spring competition, it capped off one of the more memorable seasons in the past few years. 
“We definitely I think started to change the culture at UNCA and set a really solid foundation to continue to build on for the future seasons,” said redshirt junior Taylor Durall. 
First-year Interim Head Coach Mick Giordano led the Bulldogs to a 3-5-1 record, an improvement on the team’s 4-12-1 record from the previous season in the fall of 2019. The team’s performance in the regular season that featured solely conference play — even with a losing record — resulted in a fourth place ranking in the Big South to send them to the conference tournament semifinal round. 
“We are happy with the progress but not satisfied with the overall result just yet,” Giordano said. 
The season marked by progress resulted in many conference award winners among the Bulldogs. Miles Peay’s conference-high seven assists — a mark that also ranks him fifth in all of Division I — earned him First Team All-Conference honors. Freshmen Conor Behan and Leon Musial made spots on the All-Freshman team thanks to stellar play from Behan and protection in goal from Musial. 
For their stellar tournament play in the High Point matchup, Izzy Garcia, a redshirt sophomore, and Larsen Hackworth, a sophomore, earned spots on the Big South All-Tournament team.
The Bulldogs also found success off the field, with Durall receiving the Big South Scholar Athlete of the Year Award for his performance in the classroom. 
“I’m very grateful for the support I’ve received at UNCA that’s allowed me to find success both on the pitch and in the classroom,” Durall said.
Despite the postseason honors and competition, the team identified some key areas they can seek improvement in —  net more goals, attack more on the offense and score more goals than conceded on set pieces, to name a few. Peay also said that he thinks the team should focus on putting together consistent performances moving from game to game. The Bulldogs may have reached the conference semifinals this season, but it may take more consistency and a winning record to make the tournament in the fall.
“We want to make sure next season we have more consistency,” Peay said. “Throughout the season and throughout each game, we want to make sure that we are always playing as well as we can and that we’re giving ourselves the best chance each game.”
The season also marked the first season in the driver’s seat for Giordano, who said he enjoyed leading the athletes and watching them improve in areas throughout the season.
“Certainly enjoyable in the way that this group is so close together,” Giordano said. “It certainly makes it fun to be able to call them your team and be able to call them your players. And as a coach and as a staff, you really can’t ask for more than that.” 
The season may have ended in disappointment, but the Bulldogs certainly have positives to take away from it all. Looking forward to fall, with the crazy spring pandemic season behind them, the men’s soccer team will reflect on the past with enjoyment but focus on finding more success.
“We’re happy with the progress that we’ve made but we know we can keep going, doing bigger things,” Peay said.