Men’s sports’ major turnaround

Flagler teams are on the rise, with every sport improving records

By Ryan Day |

At this time last year, the men’s soccer team was finishing out a two-win season, the men’s golf team hadn’t placed better than 12th in a tournament, men’s tennis included five underclassmen on its roster and expectations were going to be low until those underclassmen got some experience and men’s basketball was one day away from a 13-point loss to in-state rival Embry-Riddle, their fourth loss in eight games.

“I think the move to Division II will really boost this team,” men’s tennis coach Walter Shinn said shortly after season’s end last year.

“I think it will help a lot of the teams around here.”

“Being in Division II helps with recruiting, it helps the guys know they have something to play for at the end of the season and it helps a team to play against tough competition week in and week out,” men’s basketball head coach Bo Clark said last March.

While coaches saw the transition to Division II this season as a chance for teams to develop and progress, none of the men’s athletic coaches could have predicted by how much these men’s teams would drastically improve.

Men’s soccer scored 14 goals in all of their 17 games last season. They were also shut out in eight of those games, contributing largely to the reason why they didn’t get a win until Oct. 6, nearly seven weeks, and nine games, into the season. In short, last year at this time, the men’s soccer program was a dismal 2-13-2.

This year they finished 11-5-2, recorded 36 goals in 18 games, improved their number of shots on goal from 197 to a whopping 296 and played with discipline, reducing their number of red cards, and ejected players, from 6 to 1.

“Last season, I believe we all just played as individuals,” sophomore Conor Killeen of the men’s soccer team said.

“We all tried to do our own thing on the field. But this year, we became like a close-knit family. We learned each other’s strengths and weaknesses and we learned how to play together and as a team. We proved how good of a team we really are.”

“Play from the back all the way to the forwards was improved and winning tough regional games helped get the team get into a winning mentality,” sophomore goalkeeper Zach Volpi, who improved his goal save percentage from .588 to .743, said.

“Every player was team first. There were zero discipline issues and it seemed that everyone played for the team and not themselves, which may have been a problem last year. Everyone did their part and looked to put Flagler college soccer back to where it should be and where it will continue to be.”

Men’s golf was also struggling to win, never placing higher than 12th in a single tournament and earning 15th in three of the six tournaments they played in the winter. As of this writing, they have been ranked No. 25 nationally, having placed only as low as 7th, but answered their worst performance with their best, ranking 3rd out of 16 teams in the Rollins Invitational in Ocoee, Fla.

“Last year was a fairly new team with a brand new coach and we struggled to find the rhythm we were looking for,” junior Patrick Lamb said.

“Coach [Jay Jennison] stayed on us during the summer by sending emails about tournaments to enter to help keep us sharp and motivated for the upcoming season. Our guys played very well during the summer and we just tried to carry that good play into the fall.”

Expectations are also high for both men’s basketball and men’s tennis, although the basketball team is off to a 1-6 start. After finishing with a 20-7 record last season, Head Coach Bo Clark says he has high expectations for the team as he does every year, but won’t get caught up in what he calls “the numbers game.”

“Twenty wins is tough to duplicate,” Clark said. “This upcoming season is probably the toughest season I’ve ever had to go through with a team here at Flagler…but we’re bigger, and the freshmen players, while they’re still freshmen, have really stepped it up, just like the freshmen last year. I’m seeing more rebounding off the bench and that’s real encouraging.”

“But I don’t tell my players expectations for winning this number of games or that number of games. It puts extra pressure on the guys and, frankly, they don’t need that. When you play Division II, there aren’t any more easy games. You can’t take a night off and expect to squeak by a lesser-quality team. You’ve got to adhere to the game plan every night and if you lose focus, you’ll lose.”

Men’s tennis, like men’s basketball, also got off to a rough start, dropping their first four games before winning their next five of six matches.

The late start in solid play was credited to a roster of eight with only two seniors and a starting six that included two freshmen.

“We’re a better team than last year. We’ve matured, we’ve played a year together and we’re going to play up to our competition,” returning starter, sophomore David Cotrone said. “Some of those close games from last year, we can definitely pull those out.”

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