Last month, the UNC Greensboro men’s soccer team took the field for the first time in 400 days.
It had been over a year since the squad fell short in the Southern Conference Tournament Championship. Now, they were playing in an empty, quiet stadium during the spring semester instead of the fall.
Much like everything else in today’s world, the COVID-19 pandemic has turned UNCG Athletics, including men’s and women’s soccer, on its head.
“It was a roller coaster,” said Men’s Soccer Head Coach Chris Rich, of the beginning of the academic year and the postponement of the season. “You try to put things in perspective, that soccer is so not important compared to the overall well-being and safety of everyone . . . But there were definitely a lot of ups and downs.”
In the fall, the Southern Conference postponed the men’s and women’s soccer seasons until the spring semester due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Rich and Michael Coll, head coach of women’s soccer, were forced to hit the pause button, extend the offseason, and work hard to keep their teams safe, healthy, and focused.
“I’m going to find the positive in any adversity,” said Rich, who is in his second season as head coach. “It was an excellent opportunity to build our culture, to build our standards, to implement how we do things – from a soccer standpoint and how we do things off the field.”
The men’s soccer team trained every day in the fall and spent a lot of time in the weight room. Each Saturday, there was an 11 vs. 11 team scrimmage to help simulate a game environment.
Women’s soccer flipped the fall and spring schedules. They practiced each morning, lifted weights three times a week, and then had weekends off. Some of the student-athletes work during the weekends, said Coll, and many have very high academic requirements. Women’s soccer had the highest team GPA – 3.71 – of all 17 UNCG athletic teams in the fall.
Both teams kicked off their seasons in February and began conference play this month. What’s the adjustment been like thus far?
“We’re all faced with having to flip things pretty quickly and unexpectedly,” Coll said. “It’s going OK because we’re dealing with it very well. I don’t think it’s really phasing anybody at this point.”
The men’s team has dealt with some injuries early on, and there are a number of new players who are still adjusting to a new system. But Rich is pleased about the team’s progress – the squad is off to a 4-1 start.
“My goal is to get one percent better every day, and I think we’re doing that right now,” he said.
Both teams are focused on winning the Southern Conference Tournament in April and competing in the NCAA Tournament in May. The women’s team won the SoCon Tournament in 2017 and 2018. The men’s squad was crowned regular season champions in 2019 but lost in the tournament final.
Expectations are high, given the success of recent years and the University’s strong soccer tradition. But more than anything, both teams are just thrilled to be competing.
“We’re super thankful and just excited and happy to be playing this season,” Rich said. “We’re going to take full advantage of it.”
The women’s team faces off against Wofford on Friday, March 12, at 6 p.m. at UNCG Soccer Stadium. Men’s soccer travels to Macon, Georgia, this Saturday to compete against Mercer at 2 p.m.
To learn more, view the full schedules, and see livestream/live stats information, visit uncgspartans.com.
Story by Alyssa Bedrosian, University Communications
Photography courtesy of UNCG Athletics