STAUNTON, VA- When you launch any NCAA varsity program, it is generally understood that there is a 5-year plan to build a roster, sort out facilities and slowly build a culture that matures into a winning system. Bob Rose, Mary Baldwin's first ever men's soccer head coach, saw things very differently. After recruiting nearly 30 players on the premise of a brand new field, first-class facilities and a sport-life balance philosophy consistent with the most competitive Division III programs, it should be no surprise that the inaugural men's program is already off to a winning start.
"As I went through the recruiting process last year, I was confident that I was speaking to student athletes that were both experienced and capable," said Coach Rose, a veteran in the local elite soccer club scene. "I've set very high expectations for this particular group of players. I am very happy that we've come out of the gate at the level that we have."
The Fighting Squirrels opened their competitive experience against local Division III opposition at Southern Virginia. Combining solid defensive organization and shape (a major principle of Rose's coaching philosophy) with a lethal counter-attack, MBU scored a goal in each half to pick up their first winning experience as a team. The men then split their home openers, with a loss against NIRSA (National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association) powerhouse, JMU, followed by a win against the club team from Lynchburg. Throughout this season, both soccer programs will play a combination of NIRSA teams from strong Division I schools and other Division III opponents. MBU will compete officially in the NCAA/USA South Conference in 2019, with a combination of non-conference and conference games. The Fighting Squirrels head coach sees this season as the perfect opportunity to prepare a very young team.
"There are a lot of team standards and traditions that simply don't exist yet. That said, I worked very hard to identify the character traits that make young people successful students and athletes – discipline, focus, loyalty and a strong work ethic," added Rose, a successful DIII athlete during his collegiate playing career. "This is a hard-working team dedicated to building a quality soccer program centered on achieving the mutual success we're all focused on."
Part of that success in centered on the entire leadership of the team, including assistant coaches Brandon Fern and Brandon Couling (candidly referred to by their last names by all the players and staff). Coach Fern is a local SOCA coaching standout and previously played at EMU in the ODAC. Coach Couling, originally from the UK, just completed his four-year NCAA experience at the Division II level. Both have played a pivotal role in providing balanced leadership, with an everyday presence and commitment that is unusual at the Division III level.
"While I've worked alone for the majority of the past year, there's simply no way I could be going it alone this year. Much like the roster I assembled, the staff is equally diverse, yet experienced and focused," said Rose of his two energetic coaches. "In Brandon Fern, I have a local guy with tons of experience as both a player and coach. He's going to be a valuable bridge to the talented pool of local players. Couling is a highly talented, NCAA Division II athlete, having just come off his senior year at Lubbock Christian University. He connects extremely well with the players. They look up to him and I think they see a bit of what they want to become in him – talented, dedicated and highly skilled."
MBU men's soccer will ride their momentum into the next home game this weekend when they face the highly talented club team from the University of Virginia at 2pm. The Fighting Squirrels continue their home run of games on September 15th against Radford, followed by a very special "Play with Pride" home game on September 23rd at noon against Washington and Lee. The game is part of a national movement organized by the United Soccer Coaches, a governing body of NCAA soccer that uses the exposure of over 5,000 college soccer players wearing rainbow laces to promote inclusive behavior in the NCAA and pro sports. For more information on this and all our men's soccer games, check out the Mary Baldwin Athletics website and social media.