COLUMBIA — What makes a team jell? Is it any one thing? Is it good recruitment? Is it a strong fan base? Or is it the team bonding? The difference this year for the Columbia College men’s soccer team is leadership.
Last season, the Cougars didn’t have captains and their season ended 9-8-3. This year, two players stepped up to the challenge. For this season's Cougars (12-2-1), leadership has made the difference.
Columbia College (12-2-1)
at Hannibal-LaGrange (9-3-1)
WHEN: 3 p.m.
“We didn’t really have captains last year,” coach John Klein said. “We didn’t have guys who could step up and be leaders last year.”
This season is different.
“We wanted to get captains in place,” Klein said.
The two weeks of preseason was a telling time for leadership. Both Jordan Cox and Lloyd Jacobs stood out.
“It was a pretty easy choice,” Klein said.
Cox and Jacobs, both seniors who have been on the squad for four years, have stepped up to lead the team this season. But that is where the similarities end. The leadership style of each is different.
Cox has intensity for the game unlike anyone else on the squad. He brings an excitement and love for soccer that helps him lead by example.
“Jordan’s type of leadership is what I rely on most. He knows what I’m looking for,” Klein said.
On the other hand, Jacobs brings a more light-hearted dynamic to the team.
“Lloyd thinks practice might need to be more relaxed,” Klein said.
Either way the combination works and it shows.
“They complement one another," Klein said. “They have both made terrific contributions as leaders.”
But there is more to this team than just good leadership. It starts with a little bit of fun.
If you stood on the corner of Wilkes Blvd. and Rangeline at 3:30 on a chilly fall afternoon, you are libel to think a bunch of friends are gathering to play a pickup game of handball. The shouts and joking coming from R. Marvin Owens Stadium are not only friends, but they are a collegiate NAIA soccer team warming up for practice. The No. 9 team as a matter of fact.
Surely, they should be more serious about the game. But maybe the fun is part of the Cougars' secret to success this season.
Klein supports their joking.
"They are having fun in the practice setting and they are taking that enjoyment and bringing it to the game," Klein said. If fun equates to wins than that's OK by him.
Junior Ryan Goldkamp echoes Klein.
"We hang out outside of soccer and that carries onto the field," Goldkamp said. "This is the best team chemistry in my three years here."
Watching the Cougars play makes a person want to grab some shin guards, some cleats and a soccer ball and start playing even if you don't know what the difference is between a forward, a midfielder and a defender. They make you want to have fun with them. It is no wonder the stands have remained close to full throughout the season.
"They are a relatable group of guys and people want to support them, " said Cindy Fotti, the assistant director of athletics for Columbia College, who says she knows the players well.
Just as much as the fans feel the energy from the team, the team certainly feels the energy from the crowd.
"The more fan support you have, the harder you try during a game," junior Alex Rangel said.
Goldkamp agreed. "It makes the game more exciting," he said. "It makes you want to play harder for them (the fans)."
The fans are great, but there are times when they are needed more than they know. During the course of a game there are pivotal moments that impact the spirit of a team. A deflected corner kick here. A yellow card there. Then there is the occasion when there's a tie score and the game has to go into overtime. What the fans may not know is in a NAIA soccer game there is potential for two 10-minute overtimes to decide the victor. This is a crucial moment where the team needs the fans the most. In the Cougars' case, sometimes in that crucial moment, the fans just up and leave.
"When there is a tie and we go into overtime, that is when it is most important to cheer on the team," goalkeeper Ken Searles said.
Maybe the fans have faith that the Cougars can pull it out. They certainly have all season. They won matches against their two toughest opponents two weeks ago.
"The McKendree and Park week was huge," Klein said. "We have crossed that line of stepping on the field and believing we can win, to now we step on the field knowing we can win."
That confidence and mental toughness did not waver in the game against Harris-Stowe earlier last week when the Cougars shut out the Hornets 4-0. The shutout streak continued Friday when the Cougars defeated Williams Baptist 9-0 at home.
With the momentum heading into their last three regular season games, it is easy for the Cougars to keep in mind one of the many things they have in common. It might be the most important thing they have in common. They want to win.
"Everybody has the same desire on the team to win," Searles said. "In order for that to happen we have to stay together."