Last season, the Emory men’s soccer team failed to earn a bid to the NCAA DIII Men’s Soccer tournament. Now, the team returns to the pitch with a chip on its shoulder. The Eagles will have no shortage of experience with 10 of the 11 starters from last year’s squad back on the field, but one key member will no longer be in the huddle: Head Coach Sonny Travis.
Travis became the athletic director at Coe College (Iowa) Aug. 28, leaving Emory after 10 years and 122 wins. Prior to his term at Emory, Travis served as both the athletic director and men’s soccer coach at Virginia Wesleyan University. Now, with more than 400 wins tallied across a 31-year coaching career, Travis is ready to take on a new challenge.
“[Returning to an administrative role] is something I have been thinking about for a while,” Travis said. “I wanted to get back to a situation where I could do just administration and build an athletic program and work with coaches.”
Cory Greiner, who has served as assistant coach for the last five years with the men’s soccer program, was named Interim Head Coach. While no one on the team could have predicted Travis’ departure, the transition to Coach Greiner has been nothing short of seamless.
“Things have transitioned pretty smoothly,” captain and senior center back Cody Gardiner said. “All the guys are excited about the direction the program is going, but it was definitely a shock when we were told about the coaching change because no one knew it was coming.”
Travis’ abrupt departure certainly creates a hurdle for the Eagles as they prepare for their first match less than a month after switching head coaches. However, Travis was confident that the experience of both this year’s roster and the current coaching staff would help mitigate the challenge.
“I feel like I have left the program in really good shape, and that’s the only way that I would leave this late in the summer,” Travis said. “There was a good assistant coach in place, we had good captains in place, we had a good returning roster … and I hope they can take it to the next level.”
As an experienced member of this Emory program, Greiner has a solid foundation from which to work and is hopeful that he can build on the culture already in place.
“We have the same group, the same values, the same core,” Greiner said. “There is nothing too drastically different.”
With so many returning starters and six seniors on this year’s roster, the Eagles can ill afford to struggle through the coaching change if they wish to avoid a repeat of last year’s result and capitalize on their potential. Their 10-5-1 record last season would be considered excellent by most standards, but some players felt slighted by their absence from the NCAA tournament.
“We had 10 wins, or whatever it was, but no one really cared about that given that we didn’t make the tournament, didn’t win the conference,” Gardiner said. “There is a lot of resentment about how things finished off last year and we want to go out and prove that getting left out of the tournament isn’t indicative of the talent that we have as a team.”
Returning seniors this year include defenders Gardiner and Georges Daoud, midfielder Adam Ferguson and forwards Christian Meyer, Michael Carragher and Jason McCartney. Last year, McCartney led the team with seven goals and seven assists and was named to the All-UAA First Team. Gardiner was named All-UAA Second Team, as was junior forward Moustafa Khattab. Other returners to look out for include junior midfielder Evan Floersch and sophomore midfielder Jun Tsuru, who demonstrated impressive composure during his freshman season last year. Of the team’s newer players, Greiner was most impressed with junior defender Tyler Santee, a transfer from the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
Greiner explained that one of the team’s biggest areas of improvement must come in their ability to recognize mistakes and make adjustments accordingly.
“There are going to be times when we make a mistake and it’s going to cost us a goal,” Greiner said. “That’s natural, that’s a part of soccer, that’s a part of life. We want to be able to see that, replicate that, and fix it.”
The Eagles typically face a challenging schedule, both in and outside of UAA play, and that will surely be no different this season. Key matches include an early road challenge at Washington & Lee University (Va.) Sept. 9 and another away contest at University of Chicago Oct. 7.
For now, the Eagles have their eyes set on their first match against North Carolina Wesleyan College Friday, Sept. 1, at home in the annual Sonny Carter Invitational. Emory will have little rest before their second game Saturday, Sept. 2, against Pacific Lutheran University (Wash.), which will conclude the weekend invitational.