Fall of 2013 has already proven to be a banner season for the St. Francis men's soccer team. The Red Flash, under seventh-year head coach Michael Casper, are riding their first-ever No. 1 ranking in the North Atlantic region, and their best start in program history at 8-2-3.
"This is uncharted territory for us," Casper said. "We are trying to figure out how to handle that kind of recognition."
The Flash are adjusting to their new status as the hunted, after racking up a signature win at Big Ten power Penn State earlier this month, following prestigious victories over William & Mary and Bucknell, all on the road.
St. Francis is not the underdog anymore
"It's an interesting transition," Casper said. "We've scalped some wins from big schools in the past, but now everyone's trying to take us out. Our guys need to realize that no matter what we did in the last game, you have to earn the next one; no one's going to roll over for you."
The quality early-season wins have boosted the Red Flash's confidence, but in spite of its newfound notoriety, this promising program is working hard to stay focused. Their perennial goal is to return to the NEC playoffs. Last year, the Flash advanced to the league final with an upset win over top seeded Quinnipiac before falling on penalty kicks to Fairleigh Dickenson in the championship game.
Now with the unprecedented start, 2013 may prove to be the breakout year for St. Francis soccer. Beyond the top regional ranking, the Flash are also earning points in the national coaches poll, and may be on the verge of their first-ever top-25 nod. The excited coaching staff has been diligent about informing recruits about this season's success, giving high school stars yet another reason to consider continuing their soccer careers in Loretto: the opportunity to compete on a national level.
"We try to encourage excellence in all areas," Casper said. "Not only on the field and in the classroom, but as they grow into young men who can achieve their goals."
The small-school environment and quality education are already university selling points for a roster of players that reflects both local and international flavor; teammates hail from as nearby as Johnstown and State College to Canada, Mexico and even New Zealand. Now, as soccer continues to grow in popularity locally and throughout the U.S., the St. Francis program is growing in stature as well.
With five games left in the regular season, Casper hopes to parlay the strong start into a history-making finish.
Goodman Shaffer can be reached at email@example.com.