ASHLAND -- Building a soccer program is a little like cooking: it takes a while to rise. The SOU men's soccer team saw that firsthand as it began in the 2015 season with the hiring of Clark College head coach Biniam Afenegus. He came to the Raiders, excited for the opportunity to build something brand new in Ashland.
"I can't believe it's been three years since we started the program," Afenegus said, "Not too many people can say they started a program from scratch, so that's what enticed me."
That was a pitch he started to use on recruits as well as he entered the recruiting game late, in early March. He put together a solid first recruiting class, but the team just missed the conference playoffs in its first season. He continued to use the pitch to get talented players onto the pitch in Ashland and the program began to improve.
"I just thought it would be really cool to be the first program there was at the school," junior midfielder Paul Matyas said.
"It's a whole different experience, because joining the previous school I was at, it was an established foundation of what's going on," senior left wing Sean McManamon said.
Even with Afenegus' vision for what the program could be, that foundation wasn't there with the first year program. In year two, though, the team finished in a tie for third in the conference standings.
"We're hoping each year, we're taking a step forward, which we have," Afenegus said.
They took a leap forward in 2017, winning the regular season Cascade Collegiate Conference title and then winning the tournament title by defeating Corban, a team that has won the conference tournament in three of the last four seasons. Winning the regular-season title gave them a berth into the 31-team national NAIA tournament, puting them on the national stage, where they will play No. 8 Georgia Gwinnett.
"Winning conference and then winning the conference tournament and making it to the national tournament in three years is pretty remarkable," Afenegus said.
As it ages, the program should only become more established, having reached the NAIA tournament in just three years. Current Raiders just want to set the groundwork for what will become a nationally recognized program in the future.
"Sadly, when it is over, it will be cool to look back and see the future teams that are coming up and the new guys that are coming in to hopefully continue to build on this program and make this program even better," McManamon said.
All signs point to the Raiders looking up in the future. With a road date in the national tournament set for Saturday morning, the current Raiders simply have their sights set straight ahead.
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