By Lane Fahey, Contributor
The past few weeks have been filled with a lot of ups, and some downs for the men’s soccer team at Furman. Starting almost three weeks ago, the Paladins played against No.10 University of Kentucky at home. This game gave the team a chance to prove themselves on a bigger stage than usual.
After failing to score a goal against College of Charleston the team was at a tipping point in the season. A solid defense would not matter if the team continued to fail to find the back of the net on offense.
Senior and captain Lewis Hawke, one of the team’s biggest offensive leaders, helped lead the charge, getting Furman back into a scoring mode.
“I think like going into it we knew we should’ve done better against College of Charleston therefore, if we beat Kentucky then it’d put us back on track to sort of be where we wanted to be,” Hawke said. “So I think it was very exciting to try to get back on track.”
35 minutes in Hawke scores a header off of a corner kick. Hawke’s goal electrified the team to hold on and beat the nationally ranked team, 1-0. Captain Hawke’s thoughts on his goal and what was going through his head: “Just do my job, as always.”
After this thrilling game, the Dins were later ranked 18 by Soccer America. Ranking in the top 25 of the country can obviously create some pressure for the team to succeed. However, goalkeeper Johnny Smith disagrees.
“I think that it’s good to get affirmation that we were playing well, but we need to come into the mindset that we’re gonna be taking it to teams. If we’re a top team in the country, I think that doesn’t necessarily change anything about our perspective on how we should take it,” Smith said.
Hawke also thinks the ranking will not affect the team’s process going into games.
“I think it’s good to see stuff like that cause it shows that people are seeing that we’re doing a good job and as soon as you get some sort of exposure from one ranking then hopefully if you keep winning you start getting it from the other ones as well,” Hawke said.
For the week of Sept. 5 to 11, Johnny Smith was named the Southern Conference men’s soccer player of the week. Smith had five saves and a shutout in the Kentucky game. In the previous game against Presbyterian College, Smith had four saves and a shutout in the double overtime win. These stats and recognition have not changed Smith’s mindset as he continues through the season.
“It’s good to hear that I’ve been playing well, but I think it’s a part of a more larger team. I trust my guys, I trust my defenders, I know that they’re all working hard and we’re all working as a cohesive unit. It’s obviously great to hear that I’ve been playing well but it’s so much more than just me,” Smith said.
The team then traveled to Boiling Springs, N.C. to play Gardner-Webb. Starting off on the wrong foot, Gardner-Webb scored two goals in the first half. However, 61 minutes in, Hawke scored what ultimately led to four goals unanswered. The game ended with the Paladins on top, 4-3.
So far this season, the team has been focused on bonding off the field, and turning that into synchronization during games.
“I think bonding with the guys is a crucial part of playing. I think just being a part of this group of guys we’re in the process together, we’re working hard and I think that’s a big area of growth,” Smith said.
Despite the extreme amount of success, there is still room for improvement as the season progresses.
“I think we’re just trying to get out any creases that could come back and bite us. I think we’ve been playing well but I still think there’s a lot we can improve on,” Hawke said.
With a three game winning streak, the Dins looked to beat University of South Carolina, Coach Doug Allison’s alma mater. This home game was the Ovarian Cancer Awareness game, recognizing ovarian cancer with the color teal. The team wore teal bracelets that read ‘No one fights alone!’ that they threw into the crowd before the game began. Furman was not able to extend their winning streak to four, as they fell to USC 3-0.
After this loss the Paladins thumped a VMI team that was ill-prepared for Furman’s rebound game. Despite Furman being the heavy favorite a final score of 6-0 was a pleasant surprise for the Paladins who could not have started conference play on a much higher note.
Furman has back-to-back Saturday conference games against UNC Greensboro in Greensboro Oct. 1 and rival Wofford the following week at home on Oct. 8. Both will play as major measuring sticks as to how the team will finish in the conference.