Bill Ashby is going to be home for Thanksgiving.
But it wasn’t the Thanksgiving he anticipated.
“I planned on traveling,” said the University of Maine-Fort Kent men’s soccer coach.
Ashby and his Bengals expected to be flying to Fresno, Cal. for the NAIA National Soccer Tournament. They reached the Elite Eight last year.
But the Indiana Institute of Technology shocked them 1-0 in overtime in their first-round game in Fort Kent last Saturday.
Meanwhile, 3,000 miles away, fourth-ranked Azusa-Pacific (Cal.) eliminated the UMFK women 3-0.
The UMFK men and women were both undefeated entering the tournament. The men finished at 17-1-1 and the women wound up 17-1.
“The game beat us,” said Ashby. “The boys played well. They executed very well and controlled the whole match. They created great scoring opportunities but their goalie [Josh Verhulst] came up big. We made half a mistake in overtime and paid the price.”
Lucas Levesque said his UMFK women were simply overmatched.
“They were like a lower level Division I team. They had a lot of Division I transfers. And there’s so much talent in that region,” said Levesque. “We shaved four goals off last year’s result [7-0 loss to Northwood, Fla.]. We’re headed in the right direction. I just don’t know how much we can close the gap especially with our location and scholarship budget [2.2 athletic scholarships]. It was a good learning experience for us.”
The positive thing for both programs is their graduation losses will be minimal.
“We’ll be good next year. We get 22 out of our 24 players back and we have some good players who can step in and fill some holes for us. The future looks bright,” said Ashby, who will have to replace three-time honorable mention All-American Emlyn Jacoby, an attacking midfielder who had four goals and 12 assists this season, and flank midfielder Dwayne Smith (3 & 3).
Jacoby captained the team and finished his career with 22 goals and 47 assists in 64 games. Smith had 22 & 23 in 67 games.
“Emlyn’s a big loss. He was a leader on and off the field,” said Ashby who considers Jacoby’s brother, Spencer (1 & 4), along with Jarryd Phillips (3 & 2) to be the prime candidates to replace Jacoby.
Walford Stewart (6 & 5) will probably replace Smith, said Ashby.
“We have a long [recruiting] list that I’ll start narrowing down,” said Ashby. “Hopefully, I’ll be able to bring in more Maine kids. I get 20 emails a day from international students. Our stables are pretty full right now. We’re happy where we are but if we can add to it, it’d be great.”
Ashby’s Bengals were ranked fifth in the country in the last poll and were the second seed for the tournament.
“I’m happy with the season. We had a top five finish [in the country],” said Ashby whose team will begin next season with a 52-game unbeaten streak in regular season play (51-0-1).
UMFK outscored its opponents 89-6 and wasn’t shut out until the Indiana Tech game.
On the women’s side, defender Sarah Nadeau will be the only starter who will graduate.
“The future looks pretty good. We’re definitely headed in the right direction. I love the position we’re in,” said Levesque. “We realized how hard we have to work to get to that level and that will be good motivation for our players. We have to keep working hard and keep moving forward.
“We learned that we have to play at a lot quicker pace [to compete at that level],” said Levesque. “We have to spring [full-speed] into open space. We also have to stay disciplined [with their marking assignments].”
He also said continued improvement starts with practice.
“The intensity of our training sessions needs to pick up,” said Levesque. “We need to train with 22 players every day and they have to be focused. You could tell with Azusa-Pacific that they run at a whole different level and train at a whole different level than we do.”
He said the game was particularly useful for talented freshman defenders Andrea Baril and Marie-Michele Lachance because his team rarely had to defend this season as they outscored their opponents 90-9.
Goalkeeper Mindy Morneault set an NAIA playoff record with 24 saves as the Bengals were outshot 46-1.
“She was phenomenal,” said Levesque who added that her petition for another year of eligibility was granted by the NAIA.