Senior defender Parker Morford dribbles around a Berry College (Ga.) opponent during a scrimmage on Aug. 28. (Natalie Sandlow/Staff)

In their 2021 campaign, the Emory men’s soccer team finished with a 9-4-5 record and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. This year’s team seems poised to continue playing at a high level as it is entering the 2022 season ranked No. 22 in Division III.

Head coach Cory Greiner, who is in his sixth year at the helm, said that he is looking forward to building off last season’s success.

“Now that we feel more secure with where we’re at, I definitely think the expectation is to win the UAA [University Athletic Association] and be a little more competitive on the national stage,” Greiner said. “We’re a top-25 team right now. We want to push that more and get into that elite group of the top four or five teams in the country.”

Senior captains Alejandro Gomez, a midfielder, and Cole Hendricks, a defenseman, emphasized the importance of maintaining team chemistry during the offseason and incorporating the incoming freshmen into the team dynamic as quickly as possible to have a successful start to the season.

“We all come down about a week early before we get started with the coaches and we have a captain’s practice,” Hendricks said. “It’s an easy way for [the freshmen] to get integrated with the team [on and off the field].”

In the preseason, the players were able to focus only on soccer. Since classes have started, players have had to adjust, as they now have to balance soccer with their academic responsibilities.

“I think the real question and challenge for them is once we start facing some adversity is to observe how they react,” Greiner said.

Despite losing 11 players to graduation, there is a senior class of 13 players for this season, including defensemen Luke Price and Matthew Tanzer, midfielder Trey Reilly and forward Madison Conduhah. In addition, new team members are stepping up to the challenge, including four transfers and seven freshmen. Nonetheless, Hendricks does not foresee the large influx of new recruits hindering the team.

“This year we have some younger guys stepping up,” Hendricks said. “There really shouldn’t be any significant drop-off. We’re pretty level on talent compared to last year and looking to make a run just as far in the tournament, if not further.”

Sophomore midfielder Juan Figueroa battles for possession during a scrimmage against Berry on Aug. 28. (Natalie Sandlow/Staff)

Greiner said that while the team’s captains will continue to learn in their leadership role, they have shown outstanding leadership thus far and their impact on their teammates extends beyond the field.

“For any team to be successful it is necessary to have leadership,” Greiner said. “[Gomez and Hendricks] certainly can provide leadership and they have done a really good job in terms of getting the group together. I can’t speak highly enough of those guys.”

Gomez said that while he welcomed his new leadership role, he experienced a learning curve and had to adjust his methods to better serve his teammates.

“Leading by example is important, but it also took a transition because I had to be a lot more vocal than I’m used to,” Gomez said. “I’ve really grown into it and I’m really enjoying it.”

The Eagles have a stretch of out-of-conference play to start the season before their first UAA matchup against Washington University in St. Louis (Mo.) on Oct. 1. 

Gomez said that as he nears the end of his collegiate athletic career, he wants to cherish each game of his final season.

“All of them [are important],” Gomez said. “Being the last season, every game is one less game that you get to play with your best friends at college.”

Hendricks also expressed his love for the team and the players his age, but also the importance of giving back to the younger players, something he will continue to do as captain.

“We have a big senior class,” Hendricks said. “A lot of [the seniors] are my best friends. 

We’re pretty talented so playing with some talented people and then getting younger guys integrated and I’m looking forward to watching them grow on the field too.”

The UAA is one of the most competitive conferences in Division III, so it will be interesting how the field plays out in the coming months. All signs point to the Eagles making another run at the conference with a likely NCAA tournament bid by the end of their 2022 campaign, so expectations are high for this team.

The Eagles open their season with a weekend doubleheader, matching up against Covenant College (Ga.) on Sept. 2 at 7 p.m. and Illinois Wesleyan University on Sept. 3 at 4:30 p.m.

“I am really excited [for the season] and hopefully we will have a good crowd on the opening weekend,” Greiner said. “I certainly know the coaching staff and all the players are amped up to get going. We’re definitely up for the challenge.”