After playing in weather harsher than the East Carolina University soccer team has faced all season and coming up short of a victory, the season did not end the way it would have hoped Friday.
With the 1-0 loss Friday night, the Pirates concluded the season with a 6-10-2, 1-8 American Athletic Conference record. Even though this was an improvement from last season’s 5-12-1 record, it was a falter from their previous 1-7-1 AAC record last season. This is the third straight year the Pirates will finish with a below .500 overall record and the fourth straight year that they suffer with a sub-.500 AAC record.
ECU started the season undefeated through the first five matches at 4-0-1 and accumulated a 5-2-2 record before the start of AAC play.
One highlight of the season was the game against No. 5 University of Virginia, which the Pirates were expected to have no chance of competing in. However, the Pirates defied those odds and came away with a tie which, according to head coach Rob Donnenwirth, legitimized their status as a force to be reckoned with in the AAC.
Unfortunately for the Pirates, they were never able to truly become this powerful force. According to senior forward Annah Lindberg, not only did the players get too comfortable with how they were playing, but coaches also got too cozy with how good the Pirates started off, contributing to the competitive nature of the team falling off.
“The competitiveness during practice dropped off. I get that we’re suppose to preserve our bodies like the practices throughout the week that aren’t suppose to be as hard,” Lindberg said. “But even the little things like mental games and the small things that don’t involve contact, those are what should always be competitive with each other on the field.”
The Pirates were hit right in the gut in their first conference game of the season at home against the University of South Florida. Heading into overtime with the game tied 1-1, USF’s Katie Kitching scored the go-ahead goal in the 89th minute to hand the Pirates the loss in gut-wrenching fashion.
From that point on, it was a real struggle for ECU to put points on the board as the Pirates were outscored a total of 14-3 over the rest of the season while losing seven of of their remaining eight games. According to senior midfielder Jenna Geist, the youth of the team didn’t quite fully grasp the increase in the competition level when AAC play began, which led players to think they did not have to give 100 percent in practice to caution their bodies.
“When it comes to conference play the competitive level goes up because it’s more of a do or die situation,” Geist said. “I feel like our team didn’t understand that as much because we are more of a younger team. You can’t save your body for a Sunday game, you have to give it all you got in Friday practice no matter what and I just don’t think we realized that enough.”
Along with Lindberg and Geist, senior goalkeeper Michelle Newhouse also played her last game Friday night. Newhouse finished the year with a record of 5-10-2 and a 1.35 goals against average with 74 saves. Geist also finished her career leading the team in assists with four on the season.
With the seniors starting a new chapter in their lives beyond soccer, the Pirates will turn to some new faces that will have to take the leadership role heading into next season. According to Donnenwirth, the team will see who takes the next step over the offseason and who becomes worthy enough to take on the leadership role.
“If you look at Jenna and Annah now they were very different players than they were back then,” Donnenwirth said. “The spring is a great time during the offseason to develop players and we’ll take it one step at a time from here on out.”