Late season charge gives Tigers shot at postseason
By William Qualkinbush
CLEMSON — With six games remaining on the schedule following a 3-2 loss to Furman on Oct. 18, everyone within the Clemson men’s soccer program knew that the margin for error was slim. In fact, it was virtually non-existent.
“We had our backs against the wall,” Head Coach Mike Noonan said Friday afternoon. “If we lost another game, we knew we were done.”
From that point forward, the Tigers seized every opportunity to remake a season that was once rife with disappointment. Now, a team that was staring a sub-.500 record in the face a month ago will await word on a potential postseason bid on Monday afternoon.
Clemson finished the regular season with a 4-0-2 record in the last month of the season, and will watch the selection show today at 4:30 pm to see if it did enough to earn an NCAA bid.
After dealing with loss after loss and disappointment after disappointment, there came a time, according to Noonan, when a group of leaders on the team decided that enough was enough. When that happened, things began to change, and results began to break Clemson’s way.
“I think the team realized that the team was bigger than any one individual at that point,” he said. “To be honest, the benefits that have come as a result of that were tremendous. The guys just came together and realized that they had to do it. They took over ownership of the team.”
The Tigers (8-8-2) certainly wished to start the season quicker, but injuries and youth were factors that led to rough early sledding. A three-game scoreless stretch in early October may have been the low point for the squad.
“It was slower than what I expected,” Noonan said of his team’s development. “I thought it would come together sooner than it actually did. But you have to have faith in what you’re doing and you have to have faith in the players. It’s a brand new team, and it’s a big adjustment with that many new freshmen on a team.”
With the Furman loss came some soul-searching. Out of that soul-searching came a cohesive unit that finally began to put into practice the things the coaching staff had been preaching since the preseason.
“It’s like throwing mud against the wall,” Noonan said. “You pick up a glob of mud and throw it against the wall, and 98 percent of it falls back onto the ground. Just a little bit of it sticks. We kept on throwing mud against the wall, and before you knew it, the brown spot got a little bit bigger.”
The highlight of the mud throwing was a 2-1 victory over top-ranked Maryland, a win that Noonan says gained its proper importance due to subsequent wins over Wofford and Virginia Tech.
A penalty kick defeat to Duke ended the season with a result that was officially recorded as a tie, which kept the Tigers eligible for the postseason. Regardless of what the team learns as they gather in the McFadden Building today, there will be plenty to build on after a run of success that Noonan hopes will define the next steps for his program.
“I think this team deserves a taste of what it’s like to play in the NCAA Tournament,” he said. “Our future is going to have NCAA Tournaments in it. Once you get into the dance, anything can happen. The way that we’re playing now, it would be a shame if the NCAA committee didn’t see that they would be leaving out a team that can beat anybody in the country and is one of the hottest teams in the country right now.”