It's fair to say that the Salt Lake (Utah) Lutheran High boys soccer team struggled more in 2011 than almost any other team in the state. The Lynx finished 0-10, were outscored 51-10 in those losses and only once -- in a 2-1 overtime loss to Oakley (Utah) High -- did Lutheran put itself in a position where a victory seemed like a distinct possibility.
Yet, according to the Salt Lake Tribune, unlike other teams that struggled, Lutheran had an incredibly valid reason for its struggles: It played the entire season with just eight players.
That's right, a Utah high school soccer team played an entire season three men down. The Lions had just 11 players on the program's roster, and, according to the Tribune, two of those 11 failed to meet the academic requirements to compete in the spring season, with another deciding not to play after he'd already been placed on the roster.
As anyone who has played soccer can attest, competing with a man disadvantage turns a challenging game into a mountain to climb. Trying to compete two men down almost never succeeds. Three men down? That's an impossibility that is practically unprecedented.
Somehow, the Lynx spent an entire season three men down and still left able to hold their heads high, despite the ignominy associated with a winless campaign.
"We really didn't know how it would turn out and at first I think we took it kind of lightly," LuHi team captain Paul Brooks told the Tribune. "We quickly realized that it would take a lot of hard work.
"We had two offensive players at best and the other team always seemed bigger. But once the game started we forgot about the numbers and just played a game and tried to have fun and stay sportsmanlike."
The fact that the Lynx even insisted on completing their schedule after learning they would be three players short of fielding a full team is a testament to their -- and coach John Hughes' -- commitment to the sport, and to sportsmanship in general. The fact that LuHi worked hard enough to force one game to overtime, and come within one goal in two other games, is an almost astounding accomplishment.
While the Lynx' struggles may not have received significant attention until after the season was complete, others took notice in the maelstrom of their short-handed season and encouraged them to carry on, no matter what the next opponent might bring.
The Lynx efforts didn't go unnoticed. "After one game, the refs came to me and said they were impressed by the character of our team, and how the team always kept playing," Hughes said. "We had a lot of good experiences and the team has really grown together."