Zach Bowman is ready to get his first year as head coach of the College of Southern Maryland's men's soccer team underway. The Hawks are slated to begin the 2019 season on August 22 against the Union County College Owls at 12 p.m. in La Plata.
"It's awesome, I'm definitely excited about it," Bowman said of the opportunity to lead the Hawks. "It's my first chance to get my hands on things and take the reins and put a path down for the future of not just this year but the years to come, hopefully. I'm lucky enough to have some good associate coaches in Gary. We have a player from last year, Hunter [VanZandt], coming in to be our goalie coach. We got a good group around us so I'm lucky enough to have them to guide me on my way."
This will be Gary Knight's second year as an assistant coach for the men's soccer team. He also serves as an assistant coach on CSM's women's soccer team.
After gathering only one win and five goals last season, Bowman and Knight are eager to turn those numbers around for the Hawks. They believe the talent on this year's roster will show marked improvement from last season.
"Our center midfield is going to be a little bit stronger than last year," Knight said. "With the new additions to the roster, I think they're going to be the biggest area of success that we have compared to last year."
Bowman added, "I think our attack will be much more of a presence than it was last year. We're definitely hoping with the guys we have coming in that we can be very creative to maybe increase those numbers."
Bowman thinks the team's practices have been most beneficial in preparing his players for what they will face in a game. "I think the biggest thing is our sessions have a competitive atmosphere. Day in, day out, being able to compete and be under stress, and not just be under stress but be able to battle through stress, that'll translate directly to the game. I think that'll have probably the biggest impact to get us going forward attacking-wise but even be stronger on defense."
This year's team will feature a more experienced roster than last season's. Three players - defender Brandon James, midfielder Rhojay Lemard, and forward Nathaniel Morrison - are returning from last year's team. After an injury kept him out last season, midfielder Stephen Larsen is back with the Hawks. Hayden Gould joins CSM after playing his freshman season at Houghton College in New York. The 2018 Hawks only had three sophomores on the roster.
"I'm definitely impressed with our second-year players that have come in," Bowman said. "We've seen huge improvements not just physically and technically but even mentally. As leaders they've done a good job coming in so it's huge for us."
The Hawks scrimmaged against Waldorf Club on August 17, and the coaches were pleased with what they saw.
"I thought it went well," Knight said. "I thought we were able to see some positives and negatives out of the guys, their strengths and their weaknesses, and what we need to do in order to develop and become a formidable team."
"It was very good," Bowman said. "We were able to start out with our first group out there and see what they can and can't do, what mistakes they had. At that first intermission we had we went over a few things and they went out and executed, and we ended up looking pretty good. So we're going to keep trying to grow and add to those things."
Bowman believes his squad is ready for their matchup against Union County. "I think our guys are very close to being mid-season form. It may take a game or two but I think they'll be up for it. I definitely know competitively they're up for it. They're excited, they're ready to play. They're ready to battle against other people than themselves at practice, so they're going to have a lot of energy. It's just a matter of us getting them to mold that energy into being successful."
The coaches agree that the Hawks don't necessarily have to reach a certain number of wins in order for this season to be considered a success.
"That's the same exact goal I always have, is to be better as a team in general," Knight said. "Maybe more wins, maybe more goals for, maybe less goals against, being better competitively" is his objective.
More importantly, however, the coaches want their student-athletes to be successful in the classroom and in other aspects of life.
"At the end of the day, it's not about a soccer team, it's about being successful in life," Knight said. "If you can't be successful in life, in the classroom, and on the soccer field at the same time, then you need to go after being successful in the classroom. We want all of our students to succeed here while they're at college. After all, they are our future."
After a recent practice, Bowman talked to his players about "building good habits on the field and having those habits transfer and carry over into the classroom, into real life things. If you make a mistake, it's not a big deal; it's a matter of how you react after, what are you going to do to make up for it. That's what the biggest thing is, those life lessons, carrying them from the field to the classroom."
"My one and only goal is to be more successful than we were last year," Bowman said. "Whether that means more successful in the classroom or on the field, just more successful than last year."