by PJ Dumnich
Compared to their 2013 season with a 3-16 record, the Pitt-Greensburg Bobcats Men’s Soccer team has had an immensely successful 2014 season.
Each offseason has its key moments that prove to be a major factor in the upcoming year, and these Bobcats, in particular, experienced a change so impactful that it would completely dictate their play for the 2014 season. This change would come in the form of a new head coach, Robert Spain, and assistant coach, Dan Keefe.
A 3-16 record leaves plenty of room for improvement that can only be brought about by major changes across the board. But before their play could improve on the field, Coach Spain and Coach Keefe had to make sure that they had the team on the same page. According to Spain, “Guys were all over the place. There were some that were studying abroad, and others had yet to figure out where they stood in terms of eligibility due to a lack of classes.”
Once the roster compilation issues were solved, the coaches were then able to turn their attention to the tactical side of soccer- including the idea that they were able to achieve something special together.
As for the actual game aspect, the coaches began the preseason out with a more aggressive, pressing style. Coach Spain related it “to basically take the game to someone else and make them adjust, as opposed to waiting around for halftime to see if we could win with their style of play.” The players needed to get under the mindset that they control the game in order to win with this style of play, and while it may not have clicked immediately, that is exactly what they did.
The Bobcats’ season opening record of 0-4 may have led some to believe that they were back to their 2013 ways, despite the changes. But the new coaches never doubted their team. They understood that their system would take time to learn.
Coach Spain: “Despite the 0-4 start to the season, there was a lot of fight. We had leads in each game and forced OT in two of them, but there were mistakes that cost us. Some of it was related to confidence and some of it was because we had players in the wrong system, but the mentality was there and set in stone. The guys bought in.”
Little adjustments that were made during practice, such as transitioning to a more conservative style, focusing on ball possession and trying to get in the habit of thinking quicker to keep up with the pace of the game, seemed to have made all the difference for these 2014 Bobcats.
Part of Spain and Keefe’s job has involved playing catch-up to make up for what may have lacked in the program in previous years. So while their record to start the year might not have reflected well on their transition, their remaining record of 11-2-1 certainly has.
Out of their 11 victories, none has been more vital to the Bobcats’ success than their victory over La Roche College on September 30. According to Spain, “we knew that everyone would look back on this as a big game heading in, even if La Roche wasn’t thinking it at the time.” They would go on into an overtime thriller with newly-transitioned senior forward, Ryan Malloy, scoring the game winner that would be followed by a dog pile from his teammates and father. It seems as if this is what Spain and Keefe had meant at the beginning of the season- their team was capable of special things.
Looking back at the regular season as a whole, Spain and Keefe have been very happy with their team’s performance. “It has been cool to watch this team grow,” says Keefe. But, if there were one thing they hope to change for upcoming years, it would be the condition of their field. They hope to improve upon it for the sake of the players’ safety, for the sake of attracting new recruits, and because of the fact that a team should never have their team’s performance hindered by their playing field. Pitt-Greensburg’s staff has been very cooperative in helping the new coaching staff in their transition, and the hope is that they will continue to be in the future, for the sake of their team and playing conditions.
The Bobcats achieved their first playoff win in ten years on Saturday, November 1, defeating D’Youville by a score of 2-0. As a result, UPG will move on to the semi-finals game against Medaille on November 5.