This time around can they move into the finals and challenge for their first A-Sun Tournament Championship? Coach Charles Morrow and his players are confident they are ready.
The Bisons (5-3-1, 9-8-2 overall), the No. 3-seed, face Mercer (1-5-3, 2-10-5), the No. 6 seed at Campbell University in Buies Creek, N.C. Campbell, the regular season champion and nationally-ranked heading into this week, are the No. 1 seed.
“Regardless of what seed you are or how much experience you have, prior to the game there is always nervousness and anticipation,” said Morrow. “It is good to be edgy. They know what is on the line. They know if they lose they are done.
“The difference is how you settle into that and handle the stress. Stress can be a good thing and stress cane be a bad thing. Certainly, we talk about that with our players and they have seen it in the games we have played so far this season. I expect good things.”
In an effort to heighten the intensity in preparation for the tournament, goals scored in practice the past few days have resulted in strong consequences for the defenders.
“This past week we set up a training environment where they were very stressed,” said Morrow. “For every goal scored in practice there was a lot of running involved.
“It was not unlike what we do all the time. But the stakes were higher. They have lived in a stressful environment all week and will continue in that environment. Some players thrive in that environment more than others.”
The veterans players know what it is like to lose in the tournament. For the many freshmen on the team the tournament experience is going to be a new environment.
“Losing last year is definitely a motivational factor, but it also plays into the nerves too,” said Morrow. “For the freshmen it is great. They have no idea what to expect. They have no idea that being picked seventh in preseason and finishing third is a great accomplishment.
“We are excited about the future here. But we are living in the present. We want to do well now.”
The Bisons are led by sophomore forward Miguel DaSilva, the only unanimous selection by the coaches and sports information directors for Atlantic Sun All-Conference First Team, and freshman forward Garret Pettis, the first ever Bisons' soccer player to earn an individual conference honor as Freshman of the Year. Pettis was also the only unanimous pick for the A-Sun All-Freshman Team and a Second Team All-Conference selection, the most postseason honors awarded to one Bisons' player in a single season.
Pettis enters the game as the leading scorer in the A-Sun with 11 goals, a Bisons team record.
As a team the Bisons lead the A-Sn in shots with 340, an average of 17.89 per game. They also lead in points with 106, an average of 5.58 per game, goals with 37 and assists with 32.
“Coaches talk about how players shoot the ball,” said Morrow. “We have some guys who can shoot the ball extremely well.
“But shooting and finishing are not necessarily one in the same. You can strike a ball really hard, but if the keeper is reading what you are doing it is going to be a save.”
The Bisons will play at 3 p.m. Thursday if they advance to the semifinals. The championship game is scheduled for Saturday.