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Men’s soccer team reaches milestone as it receives highest national ranking in program’s history

Men’s soccer team reaches milestone as it receives highest national ranking in program’s history

When a team is coming off the best season in school history, high expectations are not surprising. That was the situation facing the Cru men’s soccer team entering the 2010 schedule. Surpassing those expectations and reaching the highest national ranking in the history of the program? Well, that even surprised the Cru soccer team.

“We expected to be ranked after the way we started the year,” head coach Brad Bankhead said. “When we beat Trinity, they were ranked #16 in the country, so we expected a decent ranking. But we weren’t necessarily expecting #7. It helped that we were ranked last year and people knew about Mary Hardin-Baylor soccer.”

A 1-0 home victory over traditional power Trinity University gave the Cru two straight wins over the Tigers and vaulted UMHB to #7 in the country in the NSCAA/ Top 25 Poll. That marked the highest national ranking in the program’s history and came just one season after the Cru entered the NSCAA Top 25 for the first time.

Since reaching that lofty ranking, a pair of overtime losses dropped the Cru in the polls and the UMHB men have been in and out of the Top 25 for most of the season. But the Cru is on the national radar and has guaranteed itself back-to-back double digit win seasons for the first time in the program’s history.

Bankhead expected to build a contender for the conference championship from his first day on campus, but the rapid rise of the Cru has been a surprise for the fifth-year head coach, even if much of the foundation has been built by his first two recruiting classes.

“In a healthy program you want to have a core group of four-year seniors,” Bankhead said. “Some of those have earned the right to play later, but all of them have bought into the program and have done everything they can do to help us build a winning program.”

In 2009, the men set a school record with 14 wins and won the ASC regular season championship for the first time. That championship earned the Cru the right to host the ASC Championship Tournament, another first in program history. UMHB fell to Hardin-Simmons on penalty kicks in the championship match, but the Cru’s performance earned another first for the program; they were selected to compete in the NCAA Division III National Championships for the first time, and the Cru hosted Hardin-Simmons in a First Round game. The Cowboys once again knocked off UMHB on its home field, and those two losses have helped provide motivation for the Cru’s success this year.

“We were pleased to earn the right to play the ASC Tournament and an NCAA game on our home field,” Bankhead said. “But for us it was a great season with a brutal ending. Through the offseason and the summer, it motivated our guys to work hard to get back in the position to write a different ending to this season.”

As of press time, the Cru was on the verge of clinching an ASC Championship Tournament berth for the fourth time in Bankhead’s five seasons on campus. That would be another first for a program that has seen its share of them over the past two seasons. And now, the college soccer world, Top 25 voters, and the NCAA are taking notice.

— Jon Wallin