By MICHELLE SPEAKER
A very narrow defeat in the Sunshine State Conference (SSC) championship game against Lynn forced the match into two rounds of overtime. No goals were scored in either round, which led to a five-man shootout. Lynn did not miss any shots, taking home the title.
The playoffs require immense intensity since the game at hand is at stake for advancing to the next level. The UT men’s soccer team has made it to the SSC tournament with high hopes of getting a bid to the NCAA tournament. “The biggest thing that teams have to adapt to when they get to the playoffs, as with any sport, is matching that playoff intensity,” said head coach Adrian Bush. “Playoff anything is different because it’s the playoffs, you’re playing for everything.”
The SSC Tournament kicked off on Nov. 1 as the Spartans versed Barry at home in search of a win that was attained with a end result of 1-0. Barry is among one of the three teams in the SSC to lead the race for the regular season title with only one loss. Earlier in the season, UT came out on top with a 4-1 win against Barry, where neither Lynn or Palm Beach Atlantic could manage a defeat.
“Really, it was our best game that we probably played and to come back and back that up with another solid performance, you know, I’m proud of the team,” Bush said.
The college season is a busy 57 days long with 18 games. “I think other schools are dealing with the same things,” Bush said. “You have to modify the practices based on the guys that are available.” There are some players that are injured that will be held off from certain aspects of practices or games.
This past week training has been light to prepare for the upcoming playoff games. Tactics have been a focus since the Palm Beach Atlantic game. “They have reiterated that they want us to keep the ball moving and work when we don’t have the ball,” said junior Bay Downing. “It’s as simple as that.”
In his time as a Spartan, Downing has emerged as a leader on the field. “Every new opportunity is exciting, who knows that the future may bring,” Downing said. “Winning games is what I want.”
Downing’s level of competitiveness makes him push himself to extremes. “Bay had a period where he was just really frustrated because stat-wise he wasn’t getting the goal and an assist as an attacking player, he was putting a lot of pressure on himself,” Bush said. “I was telling him for about a week, I said, ‘You need to go back to when you were ten years old. You need to play like you were ten, play like you’re a kid. There’s no pressure, there’s no nothing.’” Having this mentality put Downing at a better place to focus more on playing.
Downing scored a goal against Barry and then the next night he broke the UT single-game scoring record, scoring five goals. “I was very happy for him to see him break the record because I was tied with the record back in the days when I played here,” Bush said. “Once that game happened for him, the weight has been lifted off of his shoulders.”
Taking a step back to reflect on the season made Downing see how strong the Spartans are if the team works collectively. “We have to go out with fire and continue the effort throughout the 90 minutes,” Downing said.
Before the playoff match, coach Bush did something out of the ordinary. In the pregame talk, he literally ‘set the boats on fire’. Burning of the boats had a deeper meaning than just the paper boats being burned to nothing. “It was symbolism of our season,” Downing said. “That we have arrived at the battlefield and for that reason there is no turning back, giving us no option but to win.” The approach is not looking ahead too far, but rather focusing on what’s in front.
The Spartans have earned their spot in the NCAA tournament, which will be between four teams. The NCAA South Regional will begin on Nov. 12 with Tampa facing Lynn at 1 p.m. in Boca Raton.
Michelle Speaker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org