When Belmont men’s soccer team wrapped up the 2012 campaign with a scoreless tie against Summit Conference foe Western Illinois, they finished their first season without a conference affiliation in nearly a decade.
Unlike the other 14 athletic teams at Belmont, the men’s soccer team was left out when the university announced the move to the Ohio Valley Conference this past July. Without a conference, the team did not have a way to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament or any postseason play.
The OVC doesn’t field any men’s soccer teams, so with roughly six weeks to go until the start of the season, head coach Earle Davidson had a daunting task in front of him.
Despite the situation, none of the members of the soccer team have let their independent status phase them, said coach Earle Davidson.
“What we view as a successful season hasn’t really changed,” said senior captain Bradley Shuck. “We still get to go out every day and play the game we love.”
Junior captain Charlie Dankert agreed.
“For a lot of our team, success is going into each game knowing that if we give the best we can, we put ourselves in a position to compete no matter who we see across the field from us,” he said. “Also, like always, Coach Davidson has stressed the importance of taking the ‘one game at a time’ approach.”
Davidson has been pleased with how the players adapted and kept their work ethic together.
“I think our players have done very well with the change,” Davidson said. “We had some concerns that, for the veterans, it’s a completely different look in October, but I’m actually very proud of how well the guys have done with keeping the focus and effort up throughout the season.”
Another potential concern for Davidson and the soccer program was the possibility of players not feeling comfortable coming back and playing a season with so many unknowns, particularly pertaining to the unlikely possibility for the team in postseason play. Instead, Davidson was confident the team would stick together.
“A big part of our recruiting process is related to character as well as obviously athletic ability, and we put a lot of time into that,” he said.
Despite no conference affiliation, the players were as motivated as ever to compete.
“We’re to the age where you’re playing because you love the sport, and if you’re not then you’re probably not playing for the right reasons,” Dankert said.
Most athletic programs and teams belong to athletic conferences whose seasons break down to in-conference and out-of-conference games. For example, the women’s soccer team, which competes in the OVC, has played only conference games since late September, roughly 50 percent of their schedule.
That’s similar to the schedule for most teams, since the conference itself determines about half the season’s games.
“It’s gets pretty tricky in October because that’s when most everybody else is in conference season,” Davidson said.
In Davidson’s eyes, one of the biggest factors in making this soccer season a success was the response of his players to the change, and seeing team leaders like Shuck and Dankert to set an example for the rest of the team to follow.
“There definitely have been a lot of guys taking some extra initiative when it comes to overall responsibility and wanting to lead the team by example,” Shuck said.
As far as recruiting future Bruins for next year’s team, a process that has already begun, Davidson does not expect issues related to the program’s lack of a conference affiliation to turn up again.
“We did have a little concern going in, but for us it’s going to be a temporary thing anyway,” he said.