The University of Maine-Fort Kent men’s soccer team got its first taste of the NAIA Division I National Tournament a year ago in Olathe, Kan., and that provided motivation to improve.
UMFK did beat Northwestern College (Iowa) in its first-round game 2-1 but was then rudely dispatched by No. 4 Ohio Dominican 7-0 in the second round.
“That was kind of embarrassing … to be 21-0 and lose 7-0,” said UMFK junior midfielder and captain Emlyn Jacoby. “We want to show people we weren’t a one-season wonder.”
The Bengals will get that chance on Nov. 22 when the NAIA Division I National Tournament begins at the home sites of the higher seeds.
UMFK is 20-0 and qualified by winning the Sunrise Conference championship for the third straight year.
Under the new format, there will be 15 first-round matches and the winners will travel to Fresno (Calif.) Pacific University and join Fresno Pacific in the 16-team, single-elimination championships from Dec. 1-6.
Since the Bengals are ranked No. 10 in the latest national poll, a spot they’ve held five of the last six weeks, they are a virtual lock to host a first-round game.
“Hopefully, it’ll be a team that plays in 80-degree weather,” quipped Jacoby.
UMFK coach Bill Ashby and Jacoby said the Bengals are ready to take that next step and this team is significantly improved over last year’s squad.
“We’re much better than last year,” said Ashby. “The team chemistry is better; the focus is better; the talent is better and the experience is better.
“They are much more determined. They have played games on the big stage now and know what to expect. “
In fact, Lubec native Ashby is convinced his Bengals have closed the talent gap to the point if they meet a team the caliber of Ohio Dominican “it would be a one-goal game, either way. I think we’re even now [talent-wise].”
UMFK has benefited by the addition of athletic scholarships as Ashby has the equivalent of 2.2 scholarships. Teams are allowed a maximum of 12.
“Most of us have been together for two years now and we know each other better and we know more about each other as players,” said Jacoby. “Reaching the nationals last year got our feet wet. We know more is needed to be done [to succeed] at that kind of level.”
The Bengals lead the nation by averaging 6.15 goals per game but it has been the team’s defense that has served as the catalyst behind their success, according to Ashby.
Ashby converted strikers Barrington Blake and Damion Stone into center backs and flanked them with seasoned veteran Oniqueky Samuels and freshman Spencer Jacoby, Emlyn’s brother. He also moved Giovanni Sinclair from sweeper to his natural position in goal.
“The back line is faster, quicker and better in the air than last year and has been a catalyst to launch our attack,” said Ashby.
The Bengals have allowed only four goals all year.
Stone was chosen the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year and was an all-conference selection as were Blake and Sinclair.
Also chosen to the All-Sunrise Conference team were Emlyn Jacoby and Dwayne Smith in the midfield and Andre Anderson and freshman Keith Williams II as strikers.
Williams, who has 28 goals and 14 assists, was the Sunrise Conference Rookie of the Year. Anderson has 24 & 19.
The Bengals have nine players with six or more goals. Emlyn Jacoby (8 & 14) Smith (8 & 9); Jarryd Phillips (10 & 10); Walford Stewart (8 & 12) and Jermaine West (9 & 7).