New seasons bring about hope, and that is no different for the men’s and women’s soccer teams as they prepare for 2015.
The Lady Bulldogs are coming off of an unlucky and ultimately disappointing season when eight starters went down with injuries throughout the season leading to a 3-13 record. The injuries hampered the team’s ability to gain the chemistry and have the talent on the field to be competitive.
The team had an 1-11 conference record which put them at the bottom of the standings at the end of the season. Typically, this would lead to the conference’s coaches preseason poll putting Union in last to start the season, but this year the Lady Bulldogs were ranked seventh.
This shows that the coaches around the Gulf South Conference recognize Union had nothing fall their way when it came to injuries last year. Coach Isaac Brooks thinks this year will look completely different for the team in terms of quality and style of play.
“I expect to be competing for the top four or three spots in the league this year,” Brooks said. Brooks believes they have brought in great new players, and something special can happen if the team stays healthy.
Brooks went on to say he believes the six freshmen they brought in this year will all have a chance to start at some point in the season. With these new players and healthy, more experienced players from last year, he plans to change up the way the team has played.
In years past the team has relied heavily on their skill, so they have been more possession-oriented and focused on wearing the other team down to take the advantage. This year the team has more speed and athleticism which he wants to use to open up the field a little more and be more aggressive on the offensive and defensive ends.
Last year the team played in a 3-5-2 formation at times, but with the new style is looking to switch to a 4-3-3 base which Brooks believes will be more exciting for the players and the fans.
“Soccer is a funny sport,” Brooks said. “You just need a good team, not the best team, to win games.” Brooks said his hope is that the team is competitive and starts to build up the chemistry necessary to win more games this year.
Similarly, the men’s team is hoping for a fresh start this time around. The men had some bad breaks last year and lacked depth which contributed to a 3-11 (2-7 Gulf South Conference) record.
“We had some troubles [last season], but I was very satisfied with the way my team strived to be excellent,” Coach Clovis Simas said. Simas is hopeful that push for excellence will translate to more wins this season.
The Bulldogs ranked last in the Gulf South Conference coaches preseason poll. Simas hopes that the ranking helps the team push even harder as they will be underdogs all season long.
The team looks different and has the potential to make a lot more happen than the poll would indicate, according to Simas. Some new recruits look ready to contribute in large roles and have added depth to the team.
One of those new players to watch for is freshman right back Zach Fletcher.
“He is a very smart, talented, hard-nosed player that keeps things simple and plays good balls to the middle,” said Clayton Martin, senior midfielder and team captain.
Another encouraging note for the season is Martin himself moving back up to the midfield after spending much of last season in the back playing center back. The position is much more natural for him as he likes to attack more than he was able to as a defender.
With new players and more experienced players changing positions this season, Simas is planning on using the upcoming exhibition game against Freed-Hardeman University to experiment with formations and new positions.
The belief is that the midfield will be one of the team’s stronger points. This is causing Simas to plan on tinkering with the typical 4-3-3 formation they have played to potentially expand the amount of midfielders on the field. After seeing how this develops during the exhibition game, Simas will decide if it continues into the season.
Simas and Martin are both optimistic about the season on and off the field. Together, they are trying to create an atmosphere that will help the players succeed individually and as a team.
“It takes good chemistry to win games,” Martin said. “If we have a lot of individual talent, but guys try to win the game by themselves we won’t win very many games. We want to be more like a family fighting for each other, not just individual recognition or awards.”
The women’s and men’s teams will play an exhibition game against Freed-Hardeman University Monday Aug. 24. The women will play at 5 p.m. and the men immediately following.