As the conference slate began for Longwood men’s soccer, it would be easy to say confidence was high in the program. The club had played two ranked clubs in a row in the form of Navy and James Madison University, and played well in those games despite both being one goal losses.
They were 3-3 at that point and began the conference slate on the road at Gardner-Webb, which would serve as a benchmark on where the team was as a whole at the Big South Conference level.
The Lancers came out flat in the first half and couldn’t complete the comeback in the second half, and fell by a score of 3-1. Now, almost exactly a month later, the team sits at 5-8 overall and 0-5 in the Big South Conference.
For head coach Jon Atkinson, the season has been a disappointment, but has had its glimpses of promise, at times.
“It promised so much as we got going in the season. We’ve shown, and even through the conference time, we are a capable team (but) we are just falling short in some areas that we would have loved to corrected,” said Atkinson.
He said the defense which was “porous” a season ago has now become consolidated and has kept the team in games, but the club has not had the proper output from the offensive end of the pitch.
Another key aspect to the Lancers current in-conference record, according to Atkinson, is the team’s timid nature in the first half of games, which has led to the Lancers being down at the half in four of their five Big South contests and then being faced with coming from behind to win games.
“The personality of the guys is kind of cautious. I think we’ve only seen the spark into life when they have had the chance to reflect on how things are going,” said Atkinson. “We are not, maybe, the straight-out-of-the-gate type (of) team that really goes out swinging; I think we are cautious in that approach and that sometimes leads to the personality in the team.”
Atkinson said there have to be more vocal leaders on the team for it to become more well-rounded and to fully reach their potential.
One of those vocal leaders for this year’s squad is junior goalkeeper and team captain Jacob Reimers. He fully secured the position in the preseason and hasn’t looked back; currently sitting third in the league in save percentage at 75 percent, a number which sat at 64 percent a season ago.
If fans are to attend a Longwood men’s soccer match, they can be sure to hear Reimers vocal nature on the pitch, which helps to sure up things on the defensive end and also further position players in the flow of the game.
Reimers said getting up for games isn’t a problem, but the day-to-day grind when things aren’t going the team’s way can be difficult.
“I think the hardest thing is just continuing to like trust training, continuing to like go through every single day with, you know, 100 percent effort when results aren’t going your way because you keep thinking ‘well what are we doing wrong’, you know, you question everything when maybe you shouldn’t be,” he said.
He chalked some of the teams recent misfortunes to making simple mistakes, like miscommunication in the midfield, or giving up counterattack goals; and, in result, having those minute mistakes magnified to a larger degree when things aren’t going as planned.
Atkinson echoed that point by saying the team has been more tight in all areas this season, but is still held back by the one goal differential.
For the Lancers, six of their eight losses have come by one goal.
“I think certainly we have showed signs this year, (but) we still haven’t put a full 90 minutes together, but if we piece together, you know, good sections from each game, you’ve seen a very capable team,” Atkinson said. “I think with the addition of a good offensive powers in there, a strong, mature midfielder and replacing the natural leader of Josh Hanratty; I think you are going to see some magnificent things from this team."
Despite the Big South Tournament being a slim possibility, Atkinson said the plan is still to go out and trust the process and win soccer matches. He added that players who haven’t gotten as much playing time over the course of the season will begin to see minutes as the program builds towards the future.
“We’ve competed all the way through, and it’s just been that small margin. If there was a vote for being the best bottom place team, we would be in the mix; we may lose out by a goal with the way it is going,” Atkinson said with a laugh.
The head coach said he will continue to challenge his players to look themselves in the mirror and provide the highest quality of effort, despite the tough season.
Men’s soccer will be back in action on November 2, as they take on UNC Asheville at the Longwood Athletics Complex with first-touch at 7 p.m.