On Friday, Rollins Soccer inaugurated a new season at the Barker Family Stadium with a double clash against West Florida. The women’s team clinched a tantalizing last-minute 3-2 victory against the sixth-ranked Argonauts, whereas earlier in the day, the men’s team dominated but ultimately succumbed to a minimal 0-1 defeat.
After a slow start, Men’s Soccer increased their presence on the field as the second half progressed, with the entire midfield and defense coming out with much better possession than in the early stages.
Dominic Adomakoh (‘21) stood out with his ball control and light touch in the first half, as did Nathan Bettger (‘23) on his first collegiate home game.
With 22 minutes left on the clock, the Argos scored the game’s lone goal, although their keeper, Jihad Gomes, was forced to make several great saves throughout the course of the match.
In a pre-match interview, head coach Dr. Keith Buckley explained the team’s situation at this stage of the season. “There are five seniors that couldn’t return for a number of reasons, so the current team is young and inexperienced, but very hard working.”
This cohort of incoming players is one of the most international in the history of the program, with multiple promising talents coming from Sweden, Norway, Greece, Cyprus, and Germany. Last year, the team had its biggest freshman class in a decade, but this year it is even bigger.
“If the seniors had been returning, the focus would be on not giving away goals in back,” Buckley elaborated. “Because of there being so many new players, the focus is on getting a clean shape and formation, and building on basic concepts.”
For Buckley, it is equally important that the new players integrate into Rollins—academically, socially, and athletically. He set his sights on post-season play, relying on the progress that the team stands to make until then. “If we make the conference playoffs, we have a good chance to make the NCAA tournament. So, we have to get better each week.”
Only hours after their match ended, the men’s soccer team cheered on their female counterparts as they took the field. Head coach Alicia Schuck introduced a line-up that featured new faces, as well as new positions for some returning players.
The Lady Tars found themselves on the backfoot at the beginning of the contest, yet a goal by Bailey Tran (‘23) gave them the confidence to further probe into the box, and within two minutes, Chynna McGirt (‘21) doubled the lead.
However, in the second half, Rollins made things harder than necessary, with an own goal shortly after kick-off. West Florida even managed to level the score, which prompted a highly contested finale to the game.
Just when it seemed as if the teams were headed to overtime, Sarah Buckley (‘19, ‘21 MBA) executed a corner into the box. McGirt’s initial shot was blocked, only for it to fall into the path of Kathryn O’Brien (‘20), who slotted it home with 35 seconds left on the clock, sparking jubilant scenes on the stands.
“It’s hard to score two goals, and then get scored on twice, but I had complete faith in our team,” O’Brien said after the game. “I knew our defense would do their job. We’ve been putting three out of four goals in the past games, so I really wasn’t too worried.”
O’Brien finds herself in 11th place in the program’s all-time list for goals and points. Additionally, Buckley registered two assists on the night, whereas Elena Beasly (‘23) pulled off five saves on her first collegiate start. The Tars will be relying on this freshman for stability between the posts as Kelly Rowswell (‘20) recovers from a shoulder injury.
“I think tonight was about the girls persevering, doing it as a unit,” a proud Schuck said afterwards. The head coach was glad to see all the preparations coming together.
Combined with the 4-3 win against Cedarville, the game helps Women’s Soccer move on from the 5-2 defeat against no.1 Grand Valley State. Schuck, however, insists the game was scheduled on purpose and provided a lot of helpful learning points. “Every day that things don’t go well, we identify and do our best to minimize those mistakes.”
As for the team’s ambitions, a motivated Schuck sets her sights to the conference championship title. “We haven’t done that in the program in quite a few years. When we win region games, that helps us get in the NCAAs, but we know in this conference how difficult it is. You have to do big things against big teams.” On Friday, the Tars did just that.