After a trying 2010 season riddled with bad luck and injuries, the Southern University soccer team was searching for a silver lining.
Some inspiration arrived during the summer when together the team watched the U.S. national team’s late-game heroics against Brazil en route to the Women’s World Cup final.
“Even when things aren’t going your way, you have to persevere through it, keep each other up and keep fighting for your goals,” said senior defender Raedean Kurtz.
Persistence has been a big part of program’s brief history, but with the return of five seniors and the addition of seven freshmen, the Jaguars believe they can take the program to new heights.
Preparation began in the spring and continued into the summer when players arranged workouts and team get-togethers. Players and coaches agree the development of team chemistry off the field is just as important to their success as the tactics they employ on the field.
“It’s about commitment, consistency and confidence,” said seventh-year coach John Knighten. “With those three things they know they can accomplish their mission.”
To reach their goals — a Southwestern Athletic Conference championship and an NCAA tournament appearance — the Jaguars are hoping for a fast start against South Alabama in Sunday’s season opener in Mobile, Ala.
That wasn’t the case last year as fitness issues brought on early injuries that exposed the squad’s lack of depth and seemingly doomed its season before it began.
“A lot of players didn’t come in as fit as we would have liked them to be,” Knighten said of last year’s 1-15-1 season.
“In this sport, if you get injured in the preseason, the season’s over with. Injuries were the biggest thing that killed us last year because we didn’t have the numbers to support them.”
Now there’s a new sense of optimism with the return of last season’s top two scorers, senior midfielder Teara Richardson and junior striker Raven White. Along with Kurtz, a preseason All-SWAC selection, the coaching staff is confident it has leaders who can turn the program’s fortunes.
“Player for player, I think we have one of the best teams, and now the seniors are stepping up and taking on their new roles,” said assistant coach Courtnie Prather.
Joining an experienced senior class are seven true freshmen who will provide depth and push for playing time. Despite losing only two seniors from the 2010 team, Knighten has declared all 11 starting spots open.
“Everybody knows that all the spots are open,” he said. “The preseason’s been real competitive. Everybody’s excited and working hard.”
Perhaps the only motivation stronger than the push for playing time is the search for respect; preseason polls predicted the Jaguars to finish last in the SWAC Western Division. Players and coaches alike acknowledge expectations for success are seemingly exclusive to their locker room, something that only increases the desire to establish a winning culture within the program.
“We don’t like average and we don’t settle for average,” Prather said. “I think that philosophy is catching fire here.”