By Nicholas Tschinkel
Media Club Reporter
The Central Penn College men’s soccer team closed its sophomore season amid cheering from one of its biggest crowds to date. The match ended in a 5-1 loss to rival Williamson Trade, on Oct. 24 – Homecoming weekend. The men’s game kicked off around 5 p.m. and was played under the lights of the East Pennsboro High School football stadium.
A Different Game, A Different Perspective
From a spectator’s vantage point, the men might not have appeared to fare much different than in their Oct. 18 game, which the Knights lost 4-0 to Berkeley College of New Jersey. But to the players, the journey and growth of a new sports program were worth more than any scoreboard could ever tell. “I’m proud of you boys,” Head Coach Tom Birch said in a postgame huddle. “You guys have guts.”
After my last article on the team, I was welcomed as a player for the final two games of the season. From the first night at practice, it was obvious: This team is determined to be the best it can be. The players want the developing soccer program at Central Penn to continue for years to come.
Several nights a week, the team convened at the soccer fields behind the East Pennsboro Middle School for practice sessions. Each evening would begin the way any college soccer practice would, with an abundance of running and stretching.
A Fresh Approach
What was noticeable right away was how much the team reflects on prior matches. One of the first practices I attended found the team huddled together on the steel bleachers along the sidelines. Both coaches stood as the players looked on from the bleachers, at first, listening intently to what Birch and Assistant Coach Andrew Welker had to say. Soon, the script was flipped.
The players were asked to talk about the match they had just lost. Each player was given individual time to voice positives and negatives of the game, and to offer advice on what could be changed.
This approach is novel.
Rather than Birch screaming at the men, critiquing each mistake they had made the day prior, as some coaches might, he let the players replay the story in their own words. He let the players see for themselves what needed to, and could, be fixed. He let them call the shots.
Over the course of the next week or so, the men took to the practice field with determination. One night would be run-heavy, and the next a myriad of passing drills and ball-maintenance puzzles.
One evening as players arrived for practice, Birch informed them he would be leaving to go scout some high school soccer games with Welker. This left the team with a bag full of practice equipment and no directions.
Rather than blow off practice, the men got straight to work with a team jog that culminated in a stretching circle. From there, the men practiced passing, attacking, shooting and defensive drills, all things that could help in their attempt to win the upcoming Homecoming game.
This determination to learn from their mistakes and become better one practice at a time echoes the nature of what it means to be a member of the Central Penn men’s soccer team: They work hard, they are dedicated to improvement and they constantly move forward as a cohesive unit toward a college sports program that functions well.
The Knights confer with their coaches. It was a tough, but full-throttle, season. “You guys have guts,” Coach Birch told his team.
Working on The Mechanics
By the time the Homecoming game against Williamson Trade rolled around, the team was prepared to give the Mechanics its best effort.
The day began with the team cheering on the Central Penn women’s soccer team, as the ladies took on SUNY Delhi. (The Lady Knights lost 9-2.) At halftime of the women’s game, the men’s team took to the practice field and began to warm up, working on passing drills. This gave both coaches the opportunity to run through the game plan and discuss the starting lineups.
All the running drills had paid off. An otherwise daunting hour-long warm-up session went by smoothly, because the players were in peak physical shape. All they wanted was for that opening whistle to sound, and to get the ball moving toward Williamson Trade’s side of the field.
After the National Anthem and starting lineups were broadcast over the loudspeakers, the match was underway.
The action started off competitive, with a good back-and-forth for the first 15 or so minutes of the game. Williamson Trade knocked first, scoring one on goalkeeper Jesse Berger. A hard sod sent the ball bouncing all over the field. It would be difficult to maintain possession and make decisive moves during the game.
It became clear from the start that the so-called 50/50 balls – a soccer ball by itself that two players have an equal chance of getting to first – would be a major factor in determining who would win the game.
By the end, Williamson Trade came out on top, with a 5-1 victory, but not before a red card (Williamson Trade) and multiple yellow card penalties (both sides).
Shoulders to Wheel Honed the Team
Even though they lost, the hard work and skill of the men on the Central Penn soccer team cannot be accurately represented by a score, or how many shots were taken at the goal. Each player has his own individual story, but as a whole, the men on the Central Penn soccer team have overcome adversity. They stuck with a new program, even when there were not enough players to field a full 11-man roster.
They played matches without any substitutions. They lost every game except for one. And yet, they kept coming back day after day to train and to be better.
It is because the men of the Central Penn soccer team are driven not just to be the best they can, but also because they are laying the pathway for the future of the men’s soccer program at Central Penn College.
Without the tenacity and never-quit effort of the players, the future of the team would look bleak. Fortunately, the future looks promising, as scouting is underway.
Both the coaches and the players look optimistically toward next season, when they hope to be not just as good, but more competitive, in the United State Collegiate Athletic Association.
“There were plenty of bright spots we can look back upon,” said Knights defender Greg Walker. “I think the belief is there and next season we will be looking to take the next step as a program.”