By Carter Hunt, Staff Writer
Defense wins championships, but you win none of the games in which you don’t score. The Furman Men’s Soccer team has struggled to find its offense through the large part of the season, but an excellent defense has kept the team on top of the SoCon thus far despite a flurry of injuries that have held the team back.
Starting in the back with preseason second team All-American goalie Sven Lissek, who has missed three games due to injury, the Paladins team has been far from its full self so far this season. This has led to many players having to step into starting roles and more minutes than usual.
Preseason All-SoCon defender Kevin Edelman has been sidelined by a leg injury that has hurt the backfield as well. That being said, the Paladins defense has been a strong suit of the team so far.
“[Our defense] has been especially impressive considering the players we have been without due to injuries,” junior forward Lewis Hawke said.
Since entering SoCon play, the Paladin defense has had shut out opponents five out six times, a huge part of the reason holds a two point lead in the conference through their October 17 game against UNCG with a 4-1-1 record.
The Paladins opened up conference play with a 3-0 shutout against VMI on the road. While VMI is at the bottom of the SoCon rankings, the win gave Furman’s offense a confidence boost after having scored one goal over its previous three games.
From Oct. 2 to Oct. 10, Furman would go 2-1 against the teams that will likely prove to be its biggest competition in the SoCon. Currently UNCG, Mercer and Wofford are all within three games of the Paladins for first in the SoCon.
Freshman Josiah Baker scored the difference maker against UNCG and Hawke, who leads the Paladins in goals scored, tagged on insurance in the 2-0 victory over the Spartans. After 90 minutes failed to find a victor, Tony Santibanez came in the clutch scoring a penalty kick in the 102nd minute to top Mercer 1-0 in double overtime.
With games being decided late, the Paladins are having to push themselves through the whole game. “We have to be switched on and focused for 90 minutes and more and be 100% determined to beat our opponent to the ball on offense and on defense,” Lissek said.
Following wins over UNCG and Mercer, both on shutouts and Mercer on the road the team lost to Wofford at home 3-1. However, UNCG is the team closest to Furman in points and the 0-0 tie Oct. 17 in Greensboro gives the Paladins the tiebreaker advantage should the regular season SoCon race come down to it.
“The highlight of the season so far has to be the 2-0 win against UNCG. Playing the majority of the game with 10 men was huge for us and showed the determination of our team,” Hawke said.
However, no SoCon opponent can be considered a easu matchup, as every team is looking to give Furman a loss.
“If we overlook teams and give it anything less than our absolute best we will get punished so for us the next game is always the most important one,” Lissek noted on the upcoming matchups.
By print, Furman will have played VMI and East Tennessee State at home, both games that Furman will be favored in. After that, the regular season finishes with Wofford in Spartanburg, S.C. and Mercer here at Furman.Each of those will hold huge seeding implications for the SoCon playoff which will begin Nov. 13 at Eastern Tennessee’s home field in Johnson City, Tenn.
“The work rate and intensity has been great so far. We all play for each other and every guy on the team has a role to play. We always win or lose as a team and don’t rely on individual performances,” Lissek said.