Dec. 2, 2009
Rome, Ga. - They could have folded their tents less than a month into the season.
Instead, the Shorter College men's soccer team responded to the challenge, overcoming a slow start to become a serious threat.
Although the Hawks saw what was one of the best Octobers ever witnessed in the program's history come to an end in the semifinals of the Southern States Athletic Conference tournament, head coach Josh Severns knows that the eventual disappointment the team experienced is overshadowed by the strides it made.
"On the positive side, we had a good record with a tough schedule," said Severns, who watched his team close out the 2009 season with a 12-6-2 record - the 12 wins tied a program-high reached first in 2006 - and finish third in the SSAC standings with a 5-2 mark.
"We're hoping we established ourselves as one of the top teams in the conference," Severns added. "We scored more goals and allowed the fewest goals than ever, and this was the most balanced team we've had here.
"You'd like to turn those things into further postseason play. The fact that we were playing well and didn't see it through - that's what was disappointing."
After opening the year playing .500 ball through their first eight matches, the Hawks found their niche at the end of September and started moving in the winning direction.
Following a tough 1-0 loss to eventual SSAC regular season champion Southern Poly, Shorter did what coaches always look for - committed to each other and to a style of play well-suited for the team. The Hawks headed into the postseason with a solid 7-1-2 record in its final 10 matches of the regular season.
The Hawks opened the conference playoffs with a decisive 6-0 win over Brewton-Parker College, but against Auburn-Montgomery in the semifinals, were thwarted in a 3-1 decision.
"Our team depth helped us and we were balanced," Severns said.
That statement is confirmed by looking at the final statistics, as 14 players on the Hawks' roster contributed to the record-setting 55 goals scored this season. On the other side of the ball, the 24 goals allowed was also the best mark in the all-time record books.
Playing a critical role at both ends of the pitch was junior defenseman Sebastian Stihler, who earned the Southern States Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year award after anchoring the Hawks' defense and providing the big boot offensively.
The Mannheim, Germany native scored a career-high, 10 goals - fifth-best in the SSAC - and handed out three assists.
Joining Stihler as an SSAC first team selection was senior midfielder John Calderwood, who led the conference with nine assists to go along with two goals while playing in the midfield and a bit at right back for Shorter.
Five more Hawks added their names to the All-SSAC second team squad.
Senior Kyle Timberlake closed out his career with a team-best 12 goals to become the No. 2 all-time scorer in the program's history with 21 goals. The Dakar, Senegal native also ranked second on the team with eight assists, giving him 16 for his career and ranking him second on Shorter's all-time assist list.
His 32 points were tops on the Hawks' roster.
Senior co-captain Mark Beattie earned a second team nod with five goals and four assists on the year. He led the Hawks in their SSAC quarterfinal victory over Brewton-Parker with one goal and a pair of helpers.
Fellow senior co-captain Anthony O'Garro was one of the most versatile defensemen in the league with his combination of length and pace on the back line. He tallied four assists in 2009 and closes his Hawk tenure ranking third all-time in that category with 13 assists for his career.
Junior midfielder Elliott Livesey and sophomore keeper Johnny Paletar rounded out the Hawks' postseason award winners with Livesey scoring four goals and notching a pair of assists and Paletar stepping up between the posts, boasting a 0.92 goals against average and 57 saves to go along with a single-season record five shutouts - a mark that ties former Hawks' net minder Thomas Fulton's 2006 output.
For Severns and the Hawks, however, this season's work has already established a solid foundation for the 2010 season, one that will begin without the services of seven senior veterans who are lost to graduation.
"We're already moving forward to next season," Severns said. "We're hoping the players who contributed as underclassmen this year will contribute more next season."
In 2010, Severns will have the added luxury of devoting his entire attention to the men's team, as on Monday, former women's soccer assistant Jennifer Colley was named head coach of the Lady Hawk squad - a job that Severns had held in addition to his men's duties since he came to Shorter five years ago.
"Recruiting is an on-going thing and we're looking at all the positions," Severns said. "I'm excited to build a new team with the players committed to come back already and with the guys we'll bring in."