11/02/04 — CVAC Men's Soccer Preview

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CVAC Men's Soccer Preview

Published in Sports on November 2, 2004 1:55 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- The 2004 season will be remembered as one of the greatest ever for Mount Olive College men's soccer.

The Trojans hope a recent run of bad luck, including bad bounces, tough injuries and a decision by the conference that changed the standings and seedings, won't bring the season to a premature end.

Mount Olive opens post-season play Wednesday as the fourth-seeded Trojans play host to No. 5 Barton in the first round of the 2004 Carolinas-Virginia Athletics Conference Men's Soccer Tournament. Match time is 2 p.m. at Trojan Field.

Mount Olive (12-5-2 overall, 7-3-0 CVAC) concluded regular season play Saturday with a 2-1 loss at Lees-McRae. Cory Worrell scored his 21st goal of the season to tie the match late in the first half, but Lees-McRae scored the game-winner in the final 10 minutes. The Trojans finished tied with Lees-McRae for third place in the final regular season standings.

Mount Olive won its first seven conference matches and was the last remaining unbeaten, untied team in CVAC play. The Trojans lost their final three conference matches -- all by one goal - and posted a 1-3-2 record overall in their last six contests.

Despite the Trojans' record in the final three weeks of the regular season, third-year head coach Jerry Riggs says his squad actually played well down the stretch, but couldn't get the breaks.

"Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong late," said Riggs. "We've just been unlucky. We lost each game by one goal, each time due to a mistake we created. These are good competitive teams in the CVAC and you can't afford to make a mistake."

Along with the loss to Lees-McRae, the Trojans suffered 1-0 losses to Pfeiffer and regular season champion Queens, which is tied with UNC Pembroke at No. 1 in the Southeast Region.

"The thing is we've played well," said Riggs. "I thought we outplayed Pfeiffer and Queens, and played even with even with Lees-McRae. I think we're outplaying our opponents, but we're just not scoring the goals to beat our opponents."

Mount Olive averaged more than four goals per game in its first 13 matches and ranked second in the nation in scoring offense. Worrell and junior forward Reid Clewis rank first and second in the CVAC in goals scored. However, Mount Olive averaged only one goal per game in their last six matches. Despite recent outcomes, Riggs says his team has a positive mindset heading into the tournament.

"The attitude of the team is actually good," said Riggs. "They're disappointed and frustrated, but they feel they've played well all year and that they're capable of winning the tournament."

The Trojans' two senior starters, Worrell and Warren Atkins, echo identical sentiments as to what Mount Olive needs to do in the first round of the tournament.

"Right now, we're just going back to the basics," said Atkins.

"We just have to go back to the basics as we did in the beginning of the year," said Worrell.

Worrell, a graduate of Eastern Wayne High School, ranks in the top 10 in the nation in goals per game and has set a school single-season record for goals scored. Atkins has 16 assists this season and has the nation in assists per game during the season. Atkins says the team is looking forward, not backward.

"We're putting the losses behind us," said Atkins. "We're not going to dwell on them."

While the Trojan offense has scored only six goals in the last six matches, the Trojan defense has allowed only seven goals during that stretch. Junior sweeper Ryan Brown says the Trojans are due to once again start clicking on both sides of the field.

"We're doing all the right things, we just have to keep plugging," said Brown. "We've been unlucky lately, but we just need to keep working. We're going to be all right and we're going to get the breaks. It's just a matter of time."

Sophomore midfielder Charles Williams says the tournament gives the Trojans a sense of urgency and the team is ready to turn things around.

"It's playoff time and there's really no other option," said Williams. "We're just not finishing, but as long we keep creating opportunities, it'll come."

One bit of bad luck the team will have to overcome is the injury bug as the Trojans have played without several starters. Sophomore midfielders Ryan Adamski and Erik Small went down with injuries midway through the season. Sophomore defender Brandon Mills has missed two games and both sophomore defender Michael Garrett and freshman goalkeeper Chris Roush suffered injuries Saturday against Lees-McRae. All three are questionable for Wednesday's match.

"We've suffered some big-time injuries in the last couple weeks," said Riggs. "Unfortunately, injuries are a part of the game and everyone goes through it. It's frustrating to know how good we could be with a full roster, but we also have a lot of kids who have been stepping up and who are going to be asked to continue stepping up."

Mount Olive defeated Barton 7-0 in the two teams' regular season meeting September 15 at Trojan Field. The Trojans led 1-0 at halftime before Worrell and Williams triggered a six-goal explosion in the second half. Barton (7-7-1, 6-3-1) has won its last five conference matches since that match, including a 2-1 win over Erskine Saturday. Riggs is making sure his players put the two teams' first meeting in its proper perspective.

"We emphasized that was then and this is now," said Riggs. "Look what they've done since that game. Barton has rebounded from a tough start and (head coach) Gary Hall has done a great job bringing them back. It should be a great game, not just as a tournament game, but as a rivalry game."

'We have that game in the back of our minds, but we know it was a 1-0 game at halftime and they've been on a roll," said Worrell. "They're one of our rivals and it's always a big game."

Actually, if not for a decision involving another CVAC school, Mount Olive would not even be playing Barton in the first round. Anderson College was forced to forfeit three conference matches due to playing an ineligible player. One of Anderson's forfeits came against Belmont Abbey, which improved to 8-2-0 and second place in the conference. Without the forfeits, Mount Olive, Belmont Abbey and Lees-McRae would have finished tied for second place and the Trojans would have come out on top in a three-way tie-breaker. The Trojans would have been the No. 2 seed and would have played No. 7 Erskine (2-13-1, 3-6-1) in the first round.

"It's an unlucky decision and because of it, we dropped two full spots in the seedings," said Riggs. "I respect the decision and I'll stick to it, but I think it was harsh, affecting teams that weren't involved. But by the same token, we had opportunities to determine our own destiny, so we can't blame our fate entirely on the forfeits."

Despite the recent bad luck, the Trojans may have history on their side. The Trojans have a top-four seeding in the CVAC Men's Soccer Tournament for only the second time in school history. Mount Olive was the No. 3 seed in the 1996 tournament and advanced all the way to the championship match. The winner of Wednesday's game plays either top-seeded Queens or No. 8 Coker in the semifinals Saturday at 9:30 a.m. at Belmont Abbey College.

Along with the obvious reasons, Riggs says he has added incentive for wanting to advance to the "final four." The All-CVAC men's and women's soccer awards banquet takes place this weekend. For teams that don't reach the semifinals but have players earn all-conference honors, the head coach and the award winners attend the banquet, but without the rest of the team, something Riggs has done each of the last two years.

"I want to us to reach the semifinals so I can take my whole team to the banquet this year," said Riggs. "There's no worse feeling than having to ask another team, 'Can we sit at your table?' "