Featured Image: Justin Nedrow
When I arrived at UNF in the fall of 2018, the first athletics event I attended was a women’s soccer match against Middle Tennessee. This 0-2 loss in late August was a tough moment for most fans in attendance and the players on UNF’s squad. That year, the women’s soccer team would not make the ASUN conference tournament after going 2-5-1 in the conference.
However, they say rainy days lead to beautiful things, and while the Ospreys may have endured some tough losses, they had much to hope for. Improvement was on the horizon for UNF, and a winning culture was formed. The team was young and inexperienced with a new head coach.
After their 2018 campaign, the team had a better result the following season going 11-6-2. This season saw the rise of current players like Thais Reiss and Leah Ferlin. With their improvement on the pitch, the team made it to the ASUN tournament, where they would face a Kennesaw State team that they had previously beaten in the regular season. They would lose 1-3 in the ASUN quarterfinals to the Owls.
But once again, the team would keep many of their starters going into their 2020 season, and the team just needed to do the right things in order to improve once again and make a strong push for their first ASUN title in program history. The season was postponed for almost half a year due to COVID-19.
When I spoke with head coach Eric Faulconer during the team’s extended offseason in the fall, he was hopeful that the team would perform even better than their 2019 campaign as all the puzzle pieces were coming together at the right time.
“Our goals are still the same for the spring season as they would be for the fall,” Faulconer said in September 2020. “We have a really good team, and this is just an opportunity for us to get better.”
When the season finally started on Feb. 3rd, the team performed exceptionally well and caught the attention of many Ospreys. However, to the women’s soccer team, this was a result of hard work and dedication. However, the winning would not stop there. The team would go on a seven-game win streak to open the season and caught the attention of even more. The Ospreys finished with an unbeaten conference record and an overall 9-1 record, only losing once on the season. Gaining the number one seed in the ASUN South for the conference tournament, the Ospreys could now be on their way to making school history and winning an ASUN title. Something they’ve never done before.
Getting to this point in the season has been a three-year effort by coach Faulconer and his team, and the journey to making history will begin on Saturday against Stetson. Although they have played the Hatters twice this season, with both being 1-0 wins, Faulconer said that if the team stays with what they’ve been doing all year and not try to change a system that has worked, the team will be in great shape to advance past the first round. The Ospreys will need to keep doing an excellent job of finishing games and also not to let the other team feel like they are still in it.
Keeping the pedal to the medal and sticking to the plan no matter what opponent is essential things that Faulconer tells his players as they have been preparing for the conference tournament. Faulconer has a history of bringing winning cultures and titles to programs.
As the head coach of DII school Armstrong State University, Faulconer led the team to three Peach Belt Conference regular-season and tournament titles, two NCAA Southeast Region titles and advancing to the DII Final Four in 2011. His dedication to creating a winning culture wherever he goes continued when he was promoted to UNF’s head coach in 2018.
That year, Thais Reiss and Leah Ferlin were budding stars with the potential to reach new heights with the right leadership. Now, as seniors, the two have seen the program transform before their eyes. While Faulconer doesn’t really refer to players by what graduating class they’re in, he has high praise for his seniors and their mentality throughout their years together.
“They believed we could win here as a program,” Faulconer said. “Their impact is going to be felt for a long, long time here. And I’m very proud of them. Only are they great players, they are great people and great students. And I think they’ve made this an elite women’s soccer program and helped put us on the map and a desirable place to play for other student-athletes.”
The development of his players has led the team to this year’s ASUN tournament, and the highs and lows of practices, tough losses, and statement wins have all come down to this. With nine seniors leaving the team after this season, the team has a lot riding on this year’s squad and their unique opportunity to win a title.
Coach Faulconer will need to take a page out of Coach Driscoll’s book and “survive and advance” to move on in the tournament. While not mentioning going 1-0, Faulconer was adamant about one thing that will be on the Ospreys mind as they take the field against Stetson.
“We really haven’t talked about who we’re playing as much as what we can do to keep doing what we’ve been successful at all year.”
The women’s soccer team will face Stetson in the ASUN quarterfinals on Saturday at 1 p.m. This match will be at Hodges Stadium, and admission will be free of cost. The game can also be seen on Swoop Life Live by using this link.
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