Nov. 15—LAURINBURG — St. Andrews men's soccer head coach Steve Clark had one thing to say after his team's season ended with a 1-0 loss in the Appalachian Athletic Conference semifinals to Milligan on Nov. 7.
"It's not the end. It's the beginning of a journey."
The 26-man roster of nine seniors and 17 underclassmen battled through a competitive schedule to record their most successful season (11-6-2) since 2014. As they traveled through Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, and South Carolina on the road, they posted a remarkable 7-1-1 record at home to clinch an AAC tournament berth as the No. 4 seed.
"The resilience (of the players) has been great," Clark said. "On the (odd-numbered) years, our travel schedule is quite extensive. I think we had a week with games in Georgia, Tennessee, and Kentucky. The travel for that is more tiring than people realize. To play a game like a soccer match, our guys are running four to five miles a game sometimes. To do that after a long journey of sitting on a bus presents different problems from other sports."
With a favorable seed, the Knights earned home-field advantage for the opening round of the AAC tournament against Truett McConnell University. The Knights' previous meeting against the squad from Cleveland, Georgia, on Sept. 30 rendered a 0-0 tie.
The season's second meeting delivered a definitive winner, with the Knights claiming a 4-0 victory, sending them to the conference semifinals four days later. Their opponent was top-seeded Milligan, which handed them a 6-0 loss on the road on Oct. 2.
The two teams went into halftime scoreless, but Milligan found an opportunity to change that once play resumed.
After receiving a pass from Albert Montragull, Santiago Corral shot and scored the first goal of the game, putting the Buffaloes on the scoreboard. It was all they needed to surpass the Knights, as they went on to take the win 1-0 and earn a trip to the AAC championship game.
"It was important, for me, for the first 15 minutes, that we just stayed in the game and didn't give anything up," Clark said. "It sort of went how we thought. We would have to work really hard defensively, and we would get a few breaks. It was disappointing the goal that was conceded. We didn't get enough pressure on the cross; we didn't get quite close enough to the guys that were getting into the box ... but give credit where credit is due. I'm really proud of how (my players) played. It's just, at the end, there's a winner and loser."
In the offseason, Clark plans to work with his team on technique, decision-making, and strategy when not in possession. He desires to see his underclassmen work hard to step up and fulfill the potential that he knows they possess.
"I'm very proud of what they've done," Clarke said. "But I think they need to expect to be in this situation. There are some really talented young men. There (are) good prospects here within the program that will get better and put more pressure on each other, and they need to adapt to the competition from within and use that to work harder in training... I think it's important to demand a lot (from) these young men because they can certainly deliver, and they will produce more if that's the case."